I’ve been reading through Proverbs in my daily Quiet Times and studying the book of James for my weekly Bible study. Both books have a lot to say about the words we say and how we use our speech. Much of what I’m reading gives examples of the harm that can come to our listeners (or readers) from using our speech carelessly or with wrong motives.
I want to look at some loving, caring, productive uses of what we say to others. In order to do that, I also need to read the passages that reprimand inappropriate uses of the tongue. Basically, if we do the opposite of the negative uses of our speech, we will be using our tongues in helpful ways. James 3:1-11 (and further in the chapter) has much to say. You can read the post to the right for the passage from the NLT. The passage is addressed to teachers and leaders in the church, but we should all try to follow the principles laid out in the passage (as well as the rest of James 3).
Our speech should not be uncontrolled. In other words, we should carefully evaluate what we want to say before we say it. The old adage, “think before you act,” is the idea. So many of us respond to others in a reactionary manner, which only leads to arguments and hurt feelings – and eventually divisions. This is true whether we are talking with a brother or sister in Christ, our co-workers on our job, or within our own families (especially with spouses). In James 1:26 it says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself and your religion is worthless” (NLT). This is a great challenge to those of us who call ourselves Christians (and anyone else professing any religion). Think before you act. Control your tongue.
Another example of good ways to use our words is found in Proverbs 15:1. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger” (NASB). This is a great verse for those of us who are parents. Whether it’s dealing with a small child throwing a tantrum or an angry teen trying to get their own way, this works to calm the situation down. I wish I had memorized this verse when my children were very young. I could have used the reminder to not yell back when my children were yelling at me. The times I remembered to do this, the turmoil and the chaos calmed down much more quickly. Also, it prevented hard feelings that could linger in the atmosphere of the relationship and the atmosphere of the home. Another result of being gentle and calm (with my children but also with my husband or co-workers) is I felt better about myself when all was said and done. Answer gently. Be calm.
Proverbs has a lot to say about using speech for deceitful purposes. The passages talk about slandering and not keeping secrets. Proverb 11:13 addresses this: “One who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, But one who is trustworthy conceals a matter” (NASB). Keeping secrets is not only a good practice for keeping friendships, it’s also a way to be right with God. When a friend (or enemy) shares a private matter with us, they are trusting us. Failure to maintain that trust can do damage to the development of the relationship and to the person sharing with us. Many times the slanderer shares in hopes of bettering their own position within a community. When done at the expense of another person, it’s doubly wrong. Not only does it hurt the person but also it’s an attempt to promote us and violate God’s commands to be humble. Be trustworthy. Conceal secrets.
Use honorable language and do not be vulgar or rude. Proverb 15:4 (in the King James Version) says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” Wholesome as used here means “healing, cure, health” according to the Strong’s Concordance. To me that says words meant to build another up or give mental and physical health to the hearer. I don’t know about you but swear words and vulgar words don’t improve my health. In the Strong’s Concordance it defines perverseness as “distortion or viciousness.” The Free Dictionary online says this is “behavior that deviates from that which is understood to be orthodox or normal. … Although the term perversion can refer to a variety of forms of deviation, it is most often used to describe sexual behaviors that are considered particularly abnormal, repulsive or obsessive.” We do not want to use any language that deals with abnormal moral behaviors. Use Wholesome Language. Use healing words.
There is much more Scripture and many books written about the healthy uses of speech. I can’t cover them all here and won’t try. These give us a good place to start.
Think before you act. Control your tongue.
Answer gently. Be calm.
Be trustworthy. Conceal secrets.
Use Wholesome Language. Use healing words.