Some words live on—well past the years of those who utter them. This is especially true for great leaders, by men’s standards, throughout history. Certain phrases and speeches seem to echo across time.
For example, Abraham Lincoln uttered the famed Gettysburg Address, which started, “Four score and seven years ago…”
Franklin Roosevelt stated that the attack on Pearl Harbor would be “a date which will live in infamy.” In his first inaugural address, he said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told his nation, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” and made the phrase “iron curtain” a household term. He authored about 40 books. Biographer Paul Johnson estimates that the prime minister wrote between 8 and 10 million words in his lifetime.
Authors’ words have also lived on. None more than William Shakespeare, who wrote “wherefore art thou, Romeo,” “to be, or not to be,” and “all the world’s a stage,” just to name a few.
Even without God’s Spirit, these famed speakers, writers and world leaders continue to inspire and enlighten people despite being long since dead and buried. Yet these men all had one thing in common: they turned to one source to hone their skills.
Lincoln: “I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a better man” (Lincoln’s Use of the Bible).
Roosevelt: “I hope that you have re-read the Constitution of the United States in these past few weeks. Like the Bible, it ought to be read again and again” (Fireside Chat radio broadcast, 1937).
Churchill: “[Those] who produced this masterpiece [the Bible]…forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking peoples of the world” (Churchill’s History of the English-speaking Peoples).
Shakespeare: According to Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays, “the Bard” made at least 1,200 references to the Bible in his works. This conservative estimate comes out to about 32 allusions to Scripture per play.
These men all saw there was wisdom to be gleaned from reading the Bible. Yet these historical figures did not fully understand the power and magnitude of God’s Word. They were ultimately unaware why it remains the most influential Book of all time.
Still, reading Scripture inspired these men to refine their leadership, speaking and writing skills. It increased their effectiveness as lively speakers and leaders. Their written words live on.
If such is the case, how much more should this Living Book inspire Christians to become skilled communicators?
What You Say Matters
One reason studying the Bible brings about dynamic speakers and leaders is that it is brimming with passages about the incredible power of words—whether good or evil. In fact, God’s Word provides the foundation for edifying communication, and warns against the destructive kind. Notice:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21).
“The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth” (10:20).
“A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit” (15:4).
“And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long” (Psa. 35:28).
“A lying tongue hates those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Prov. 26:28).
“Whoso keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (21:23).
“For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcher; they flatter with their tongue” (Psa. 5:9).
“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle…” (39:1).
This last verse demonstrates the standard for those living God’s Way—“I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.” To accomplish this, you must give diligent thought to the words that pass through your lips.
In other words: what you say matters.
Window to Your Character
Trees and plants are known by the fruit they produce. An apple tree produces apples, a pear tree, pears, and a plum tree, plums. After tasting the fruit that a tree or plant produces, you know if it is good or bad.
The same is true of people. You can learn a lot about someone—what kind of “fruit” he produces—by hearing what words come out of his mouth.
Jesus made this clear: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matt. 12:33-35).
Your words (and actions) demonstrate what is in your heart—whether godly principles or corrupt attitudes. What you say is a window into your personal character.
When you speak, others are learning about you. They decide whether you are a well-spoken, thoughtful person who expresses wholesome words, thoughts and ideas from a pure heart—or someone who is ignorant and resorts to using base and degenerate words that express thoughts and ideas from an unclean heart.
James 3 emphasizes this point: “Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Does a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh” (vs. 10-12).
Regularly ask yourself: are my words good fruit or bad?
Four more guidelines for speech are found in Ephesians 4: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (vs. 29).
Broken down, this means:
(1) Let no corrupt communication come from your mouth. What you say should be wholesome and of value, and have some redeeming quality. It should be able to be heard by the very young, the old, and everyone in between.
(2) Speak what is good. Your words should build up others—not tear them down. Even any corrective comments toward another should be said in a positive, uplifting way.
(3) Speak at the right time in an edifying way. Not only should you know what to say, but you should also know when to say it. Your words must be said at the correct time and in the appropriate place. Notice: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Prov. 25:11). When the right words are spoken, and at the proper time, they have greater appeal to a hearer. As a result, those words are more likely to be received and acted upon in a positive way.
(4) Your words should give grace to the hearer. What you speak should bring happiness and be pleasing to anyone. It should be able to be repeated by others. Your words need to be spoken with respect and in a right and proper tone. Those hearing them should feel that they have received a gift.
An additional towering point is found in James 1: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (vs. 19).
The greatest principle of taming your tongue is knowing when to stop talking. Follow the advice given in Proverbs: “In the multitude of words there wants not sin: but he that refrains his lips is wise” (10:19). Also, “He that keeps his mouth keeps his life: but he that opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (13:3).
The book further states, “Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (17:28).
When in doubt regarding whether you should utter something, it is often wiser to “refrain your lips!”
Expand Your Horizons
With these guidelines as a foundation, set out to improve your speaking and writing. A main way to express yourself more effectively is by having a wide range of words you can use. This can be accomplished by regularly reading wholesome books, magazines and news sources. Make sure to expand your horizons and learn about a wide variety of subjects. Doing so will help you to have in-depth discussions with just about anyone.
You may also want to read the autobiographies of Herbert W. Armstrong, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and others who had a mastery of the English language.
Always try to increase your pool of words. When you read a word you have not seen before, take time to look it up in a dictionary. Find out what it means. Try to use it as the occasion arises.
When you speak, look the other person in the eye. Speak clearly, enunciating your words.
If you have not been in school for a while, brush up on the basics of grammar. If you know someone with a good grasp on the rules of English, ask them where you may be falling short.
Regarding this, another biblical principle comes into play: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Fill your mind with such things. Make sure to voraciously read that which is “true,” “honest” and “just.” Speak to others about subjects that are “pure,” “lovely” and of “good report.” And make sure your correspondences are filled with “virtue” and are “praise worthy.”
What you fill your mind with will pour out of you. If you read trashy, poorly worded novels, have conversations filled with trite gossip, and type email strings chock-full of “text speak” or slang—that is what you will become.
Conversely, if you diligently seek out good things, your ability to effectively communicate will greatly increase as a result.
Since the Beginning…
The men who wrote the Bible were all towering servants of God: Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew, John, Peter, Paul and so on. The sayings of these men have truly lived on beyond their respective lifetimes—far more than the men who were mentioned earlier.
Each of these biblical authors had vastly different writing styles. Moses wrote history and law books. David preferred poetic language. John wrote a biography and a vivid prophetic book laden with colorful imagery. Peter spoke in simple language. Paul wrote things sometimes “hard to be understood” (II Pet. 3:16).
Despite these differences, they were all dynamic writers and leaders. Their stories are in the Bible as examples for all time.
Of course, these men were co-authors, in a sense, as this Book is ultimately God’s Word: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Christ inspired the writers of the Bible. This should not come as a surprise as before He lived on Earth, Jesus was known simply as “the Word.” John 1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (vs. 1).
The Greek term for “Word” is logos, essentially meaning spokesman. Jesus Christ has been in the “business” of words since the beginning.
Words were used to create the universe: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth…For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psa. 33:6, 9). This is how all life on Earth was brought forth as well. In Genesis 1, the phrase “And God said, Let…” occurs eight separate times.
As the Logos, He inspired every word of the Bible, considering it carefully: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psa. 12:6).
Is it any surprise that words will also be used upon His Return? “And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron…” (Rev. 19:15).
This “sharp sword” is defined as Christ’s words in Hebrews 4: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (vs. 12, Revised Standard Version).
So what does any of this have to do with becoming a more effective communicator now?
The book of James states: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (1:21).
Upon conversion and baptism, God’s Word was engrafted, or implanted, in our minds!
The next verse continues, “But be you doers of the word [logos], and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (vs. 22).
The living, active Word of God should be working in our minds and bringing forth action—doing God’s Word. Even more, “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us [the apostles], written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3, New King James Version).
The Church is an “epistle of Christ.” We are to be His words in action. As God has been in the business of words since the beginning, so are all those who have the Holy Spirit.
Our Purpose Now
The importance of improving our ability to write and speak well is brought about in Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (vs. 14).
In addition, Christians are ambassadors for the kingdom of God (II Cor. 5:20). Our lives are to exemplify God’s Way detailed in His Word. Think of what a diplomat does. He lives in a foreign land, sometimes among hostile peoples, and strives to honorably represent his country. What is an ambassador’s tool of choice? Words!
Strive to be an engaging conversationalist. Push yourself to make better use of language. Learn when to listen rather than speak. Choose your words wisely.
Some have a natural gift in this area, and “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” (Luke 12:48). Conversely, for those who are apprehensive about speaking and struggle with grammar, remember that Christ—the Logos—is living in you. Start where you are, and work to improve.
Ladies, this means you too. Note one of the characteristics of a Proverbs 31 woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (vs. 26).
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, strive to attain the lofty goal of making sure all of your words are “purified seven times” and let “no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.”
If you attentively seek to improve in these areas, you will become a lively speaker and a clear, colorful writer—an effective communicator.
Remember, the God Family is in (among other things) the words business, both written and spoken. As god-beings in embryo, this means we should be busily doing—living—God’s Word until it becomes part of our character.
Step back and consider. Once born into that Family, God’s Word will fully be a part of us—we will use it to teach others (Isa. 30:21). Truly, our words will live on for all eternity!