Do you remember as a child the things you were told by your parents? My dad was one who believed “repetition is the key to learning” and he used this approach as he taught my sister and me. I remember some things he told us as vividly as if it were yesterday. He would say “let those other girls go out in pants, but you wear a dress,” “keep a smile on your face, sell yourself,” and “don’t go out with those curlers in your hair.” He wanted us to learn the importance of the modern-day “dress for success.” He also taught us the importance of our words, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Now, this is a hard one. As I ponder this quote, I remember the emphasis on saying something nice and not having a critical spirit. However, as I have grown older the part about not saying anything at all seems equally important, if not more so. I am realizing that on occasion the choice to keep my mouth shut has been the very best thing I could have done. If you can add being a good listener, you have gleaned a great deal of wisdom. In her book, Look At It This Way, Jan Silvious explains, Words are like feathers. If you let them loose, you can never get them all back. You may recover some, reclaim some, even sweep some under the rug, but you can never get them all back. So be prudent before you say anything. Realize how powerful your words are. Think about where your words could lead. In the Amplified version of Proverbs 17:27, we are wisely instructed, He who has knowledge restrains and is careful with his words, and a man of understanding and wisdom has a cool spirit (self-control, an even temper).
Looking back, I remember a teacher describing a student by saying, “He never has a silent thought.” I also recall frequently on my report card, in the comment section, the teachers often checking “needs to listen and follow directions.” It is obvious beginning early in our life that our words can be a problem for all of us. On the other hand, they may also be a blessing if we use our words correctly. The positive and negative use of the tongue is explained in the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1-4, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness…. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
I have learned to pray about what I say, and as I pray I listen to God’s leading. I try to ponder my words carefully and then sometimes I decide to say nothing at all or wait for a better time. Sadly, I am not always on guard and my words are hurtful or ineffective. I am learning that timing is very important; knowing when to talk and considering what I say should always be in line with the Word of God and His truth. A truth I learned from a godly Bible teacher is also to remember that I am not another person’s Holy Spirit. My job primarily is to pray for others and only at the right time with the right words say what God wants me to say. Paul encourages us in Colossians 4:6, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. This verse refers to a salt that can add flavor as well as acting as a preservative. It means that we should have gracious and kind speech, preserving, as with salt, the message of Christ. Additionally, what a Christian says should add value, flavor, to the conversation, showing evidence of our renewed Christian life.
1 Peter 4:11 explains the criteria for speaking as we serve the Lord, If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever.
Paul further explains in Ephesians 4:29-32, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Some key concepts from these verses include the following:
- Speak as if you are speaking the very words of God, for His glory. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:6 NKJV).
- Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouth. Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19 NLT).
- Let your words build others up according to their need (edify). Ask yourself, is this for their benefit, encouraging them in their walk with the Lord?
- Remember the gravity of your words. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30 NLT).
- Never communicate when you are bitter, angry, or in a rage. Timing is everything. Ponder your words. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).
- Mercy and grace are the ultimate examples of our Lord Jesus. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. Holding a grudge and lashing out in anger with our words shows how deceived we are, thinking we are in control. As Jan Silvious so aptly stated, There is a God, and you are not him. Can he use you? Will you let him? Your willingness to be used is in direct proportion to your understanding of who is in control.
Dear Holy Father, help me to use my words wisely. Keep a guard over my mouth. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 131:3NKJV). Help me to speak only the words that honor You and edify others. Convict me and forgive me when I am careless with my words and remind me to apologize to others if I have been hurtful. Help me to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks me the reason for the hope that I have in Christ Jesus, with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14 NLT).
I pray this in Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.