When a car’s wheels are not aligned, then the car will move forward but the going will be slower, use more energy, be more uncomfortable, and can damage other things on the car. In the same way, when our emotions are out of sync, then our relationships suffer.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31, ESV)
Paul helps us understand the way out of sync emotions work in our relationships. When we have “bitterness, wrath, and anger,” the progression of those emotions leads to shouting, slander, and malice. It’s like the wheels on our car. If they’re not aligned and we don’t correct the problem, then the whole car will be affected. If our emotions aren’t aligned to the Holy Spirit’s control, then all of our relationships will be affected.
1. Identify emotions out of sync.
“Bitterness” (pikria) is an emotion of resentment. It’s not a passive feeling but an active and aggressive emotion that searches for reasons to resent others. Rather than reconciliation, “bitterness” demands that one nurse the wrongs and wounds received from others.
“Wrath” (thumos) is a boiling heart toward another. This is the picture of a pot of water that has just come to the point of boiling. It bubbles and pops. The energy in that pot is easily seen. That’s what the term Paul uses here means. It is a passionate expression of negative emotion due to feelings of resentment.
“Anger” (orgē) is personal animosity toward another. It springs us into negative actions. To yield to anger is to give room for the devil to create sin-saturated carnage in our relationships.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26–27, ESV)
When the waves of emotions build up in our heart, don’t just run with those feelings. Stop, take a breath, and pray: “God, are the emotions I’m feeling in line with the Holy Spirit?”
2. Understand where out of sync emotions lead us.
When we don’t deal with bitterness, wrath, and anger, then our relationships will have to endure more soul-shattering struggles.
“Clamor” (kraugē) is the barrage of shouting erupting from emotions out of sync with the Spirit. When we are filled with anger, we clang and bang our emotions, attempting to shout down any opposition to our self-focused desires.
“Slander” (blasphēmia) is abusive speech. This is when we talk bad about another person with a desire to cast them in an untruthful and harmful light. It can begin with vitriolic whispers which build into a crescendo of hissing hate for another.
“Malice” (kakia) is the picture of bad intentions. Simply put, we just want to hurt the other person when our emotions are out of sync with the Holy Spirit.
The key for us when dealing with negative emotions is to look to the Holy Spirit to align our emotions to His Word. This isn’t easy. But it is what God wants to do in us to build healthy relationships. He is working in us to transform us, including our emotions, to be more like Jesus.
“Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23–24, ESV)
As we spend time with Jesus through the work of the Spirit in our lives, the Spirit will begin to align our emotions to Jesus.
So, today, let’s stop, take a breath, and pray:
“God, is the emotion I’m feeling a reflection of Your heart?”
If not, then ask the Holy Spirit to help transform your emotions so that they are in sync with the character of Jesus.
In 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, hurling hundreds of people into its icy waters. Each captain of the ships could’ve taken evasive action, but they refused to yield to the other ship. Their inflated view of their own agenda created a swirling vortex of suffering and death for the people on both ships.
“The authorities said 398 people, all Soviet citizens, appeared to have drowned; 116 bodies were recovered, and 282 passengers were listed as missing. The authorities also said that both vessels’ captains knew for 45 minutes that they were on a collision course but ignored warnings, and that the captain of the Admiral Nakhimov abandoned his bridge minutes before the crash.” [New York Times]
So often our relationships become captured in the vortex of suffering because we get stuck in the muck of pride. Our words become captured in the net of desires that feed our ego but damage the ones we love. We all experience it, but we can’t excuse it or ignore it. We need to change course.
God uses our words to build healthy relationships. Remember what the writer of Proverbs wrote:
“A wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 15:4 NKJV)
James helps us understand more about the nature of a “wholesome tongue.” Through the pen of James, God shows us the heavenly words that He uses to build satisfying, strong relationships.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17, ESV)
Followers of Jesus have been filled by the Spirit so that we can experience supernatural conversations inspired by heaven. But first, James talks about conversations that are not heavenly.
1. Words that are snared by the Net of Ego.
James teaches us that our drive for personal glory does not produce words that are wise. When we have a ferocious desire to set our opinion above all others, then we will use words that lack the blessing of God’s wisdom. That’s what “bitter envy” is all about. When we try to exalt ourselves above another, then we will use words that lack God’s blessing. That’s what “selfish ambition” is all about. We’re trying to get something for ourselves and for our own glory.
Words are not wise when tooled for personal glory. In fact, James cautions us in verse 15. When arrogance and ambition infect our speech, we use words inspired by the devil himself. The more we use the words snared by the net of our ego, the further we push ourselves away from God’s wisdom and healthy relationships.
2. Words that are sparked by Heaven.
In verse 17, James now shows us what heavenly communication looks like. When our words are sparked by heaven, then they are pure — without sin or evil intent. They are peaceable — seeking the best in life for others. They are gentle — not seeking to break the soul of someone and willing to bend to the needs of another. They are full of steadfast love and produce great things in a person’s life. They are truly a tree of life for those around us.
We want to please our King Jesus with our words. Heavenly words promote the righteousness and peace of God in our relationships. It doesn’t mean that what we say is always easy to hear, but it means that we are seeking God’s glory and agenda in our relationships and showing it with our words. When our words reflect the heart of Jesus like that, then we will set a course for our relationships to be wrapped in heavenly joy and contentment.
Before we use our words today, stop, take a breath, and pray:
“Lord, are my words sparked by heaven or captured in the net of my ego?”
I don’t know much at all about aerodynamics. I don’t understand how a metal machine can fly through the air. But when I’m traveling by airplane, I understand enough to know that the metal strip on the wing that moves up and down while we’re in the air will set the direction of the plane in some way. Officially, I believe that little strip is called the aileron, and when it moves, the flight path will change.
Our words are like that. When we use our words in one way, our relationships will flourish. When we use our words in different way, then our relationships will crash. Our words set the direction of our relationships, a point that God makes to us through the pen of James.
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:3–5, ESV)
1. Our words set the direction for our relationships.
What we say and how we say it has great power. The tongue is a small thing, but it has enormous influence. The question we need to answer is where are our words leading those relationships? If our tongue is a rudder to the ship of our relationships, what is the course we are plotting?
2. To set the right direction, say what Jesus would say.
God wants us to grow up each day, to become mature followers of Jesus. How we communicate with others shows how we are becoming more, or less, like Jesus. We become more mature when we harness our words to bless others and bring life into their world with the love and grace and truth of Jesus.
Let’s use our words, not to score points in an argument or defend our egos. Let’s use our words like Jesus did. Jesus spoke to influence others to know God more intimately, to find the power of God’s presence in their daily lives. Jesus described His words and work among His friends and followers in this prayer:
“For I have given them the words that You gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17:8, ESV)
We must commit our words to Jesus, and let Him speak through us into our relationships today. Just as Jesus pointed His followers to God the Father, imagine how our relationships would be different, how healthy they would be, if we harnessed our words to point our friends and family to know God and experience His power!
Our words can give life or death in our relationships.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21, NKJV)
In our relationships, what we say and how we say it has the power of life or death. We cannot underestimate the power of our words. Before you say what’s in your head, think about what those words will do. Are they going to give life or give death?
1. Wise Words. (Proverbs 12:18)
Life-giving words are wise. Our words can be like a sword that pierces the soul with devastating results. There’s nothing righteous about words that destroy others. They are the fruit of spiritual immaturity. Those who are wise, who have a heart in tune with God, surrender each word to the Lord to promote health in relationship with their words.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV)
Before we speak, let’s submit our words to the Spirit of God, asking Him to show us if our words are wise.
2. Truthful Words. (Proverbs 14:25)
Our words are life-giving when they are true. They are death-dealing when they are deceitful.
“A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.” (Proverbs 14:25, ESV)
Words that are saturated with honesty and integrity reflect the heart of God (Prov 12:17). Literally, we breathe stability, honesty, fidelity, and truth. When our heart is right with God, speaking His truth is as natural as breathing. We speak through lips and hearts surrendered completely to Christ.
Before we speak, let’s submit our words to the Spirit of God, asking Him to show us if our words are true.
3. Necessary Words.
This counsel from God about life-giving words is perhaps as difficult for you as it is for me. We don’t always have to say what we’re thinking. If words aren’t building up the other, then they’re not necessary.
“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:27-28, NKJV)
Restraining the words that come into our head and remaining “cool” under personal challenge are a reflection of a heart controlled by God. Just because we have an opinion doesn’t mean that we should share it. When we submit our words to God, we can be confident and secure, even when we feel like we’re being attacked. We don’t need to defend our fragile egos because we have safe-guarded ourselves with the certainty of God’s presence in our lives, so we speak only what God says is necessary. Sometimes, being silent is what gives the greatest health to our relationships.
Before we speak today, let’s submit our words to the Spirit of God, asking Him to show us if our words are necessary.
4. Gracious Words.
For our words to be life-giving in our relationships, our words need to be gracious.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24, ESV)
One day sometime ago, I was on a plane traveling to speak at a conference. The flight was pretty bumpy and some people were obviously scared. Each time the plane shook and jumped, their fear was palpable. There was one attendant who spoke with caustic frustration. She didn’t help anyone. She just increased the tension on the flight. But there was another attendant who smiled and spoke gentle words of comfort and peace.
When our relationships are captured in the turmoil of uncertain circumstances, we need to speak pleasant words. These are words seasoned by the grace of Jesus Christ with the wisdom and direction that He alone can provide. Gracious words help calm those we love and evaluate the situation with clarity of faith in Jesus who loves us.
Before we speak, let’s submit our words to the Spirit of God, asking Him to show us if our words are gracious.
A true heart seeks God’s heart in what we say. Through prayer, we determine if our words reflect God’s character. Through Scripture, we align our words absolutely to God’s Word, which is the revelation of His heart. No syllable out of our mouth should stand in conflict to God’s Word. Through the Spirit, we surrender our speech to God.
When we seek the heart of the Father, consider the heart of Scripture, and surrender our words to the Spirit, we will be on safe ground in speaking, not in foolishness, but in righteousness. And we will give life, not death, to our relationships.
My car was rattling and clanging. At first, I didn’t do anything about it. I would drive it to school and ignore the sounds that the engine made. Eventually, the smoke pouring out from under the hood convinced me that it was time to fix the problem.
When I took my car to the mechanic, he took one look and offered me $500 for the car. I told him that I was there to fix it, not to sell it. He laughed a little (irritation was the emotion that I was feeling), and he told me that he would have to replace the engine to fix the car’s problem.
My experience with my car also shows us something about our relationships. When a car’s engine is in good shape, the noises from under the hood will be good. But when a car’s engine is in bad shape, the noises will be chaotic. In the same way, when my heart is in good shape, then the words from a good heart will be life-giving to my relationships. When my heart is in bad shape, then the words will be destructive.
1. Our words reveal the condition of our heart.
Let’s look back at my car for a minute. The clanging and banging that I heard from under the hood were indicators of a deeper problem. That chaotic noise was a warning sign that my engine was damaged.
When communication in our relationships is filled with clanging and banging, we know that our “engine” is damaged. This is what Jesus is telling us when He says:
A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. (Luke 6:45, HCSB)
If we get our heart right, then our words will be right. God calls us to check our hearts so that our life is pleasing to Him. When our heart is right, our life is aligned with Him, and our words will strengthen our relationships.
2. The heart is the engine of our life.
The Bible describes the heart as the “engine” of our life. The heart is the spring from which our life flows (Prov 4:23). It is the engine of our character. It is the source of the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and emotional aspects of our life. All the ingredients that are necessary for relationships begin in the heart. So, if we want healthy relationships, we need to begin with a healthy heart.
3. Guard our heart.
If we want healthy relationships, we need to make a determined effort every day to keep guard over our heart.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 ESV)
How do we do it? We allow His Word to invade the very core of our soul (Ps 119:10), saturating our minds and hearts (Ps 119:11). When we meditate on His Word, we find wisdom and satisfaction (Ps 119:97-104), and God’s Word guides our lives with every decision (Ps 119:105). His Word gives us comfort and joy in troubling times (Ps 119:143). For every circumstance, God’s Word becomes the fortress around our hearts, and our conversations will show it.
Today, ask God to take you on a journey through His Word. As you read His Word, pray for God to pinpoint any attitude, ambition, habit, or behavior that is not aligned to His will. Ask the Holy Spirit to apply Scripture to the out-of-tune places in your heart. Our words will then become instruments in God’s hands to create health in our relationships.