I regret the foolish things I’ve said more than the foolish things I’ve done. The longer I have lived and read my Bible, the more I realized how much damage thoughtless and malicious words can do to people. These words belong in the same category for a simple reason- they come from the same place. Thoughtless words may not have the same piercing intention as malicious speech, but they proceed from a heart that is just as sick.
Too often we believe the tongue cannot be tamed, so we give up trying to restrain it at all. This is not an option for Christians, as we face too many biblical admonitions telling us to control the words that come out of our mouths. James warns us that a small spark can start a large fire, and the tongue, though small, can leave behind a similar trail of destruction. Paul wrote to the congregation and reminded them that no unwholesome talk should come from the mouth of a believer, but only words that are conducive for giving edifying grace to the hearer. Jesus said the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart, thus making our words a window into our souls and the Proverbs contain countless warnings about the danger of an unbridled tongue.
Since the Bible commands us so often to exercise self-control in our speech, how do we actively work to restrain our words?
Know the Power of Your Words
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
When I say our words have power, I don’t mean they have creative power in the same way that God’s words do. Rather what we see Solomon say in the Proverbs is that our words can tear down and destroy another person or they can build another person up. Notice the imagery Solomon used in 12:18. Words can act like sword thrusts, making sharp cuts into the soul of our friends and neighbors when we speak thoughtlessly. The offense may not have been intended, after all Solomon chooses the word “rash,” but thoughtless words can have the same effects as words spoken with malicious intent. When we speak without thinking, we can bring discouragement, frustration, and pain into the lives of people around us.
Thankfully Solomon offers an alternative to our words bringing death and pain. Our words can bring healing and life to other people. As Paul said in Ephesians 4, proper words spoken at the proper time and with the proper motive encourage, build up, challenge, and bring grace to the person who hears them. The point here is not that we are slapping people on the back and telling them what they want to hear, but rather than we speak in such a way that even our rebukes bring grace because they are fitly spoken for the purpose of helping the other person. Our words can hurt and destroy or help and heal, let us give thought so that they do the latter rather than the former.
Weigh Your Words
“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life.” Proverbs 14:3
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
In these two verses Solomon reminds us to think carefully before we speak. In 18:13, he shows the foolishness of speaking about a subject without hearing a matter out completely. How often in discussions with other people do we think about what we are going to say next rather than listening to what they have to say? I would argue that careful listening is one of the best ways to demonstrate wisdom in our current culture. So often we read something someone says and react without giving careful thought to their argument or respond to something someone says when we only halfway heard and understood what they were saying. Wisdom and genuine understanding call us to listen and then think about what we are going to say before we open our mouths.
Just because we have heard what another person said and thought about what we want to say, this doesn’t mean that we have to actually say the words we have formulated. In the passage in 14:3 Solomon tells us that the one who guards his mouth preserves his life. In the previous verse he said a man eats what is good from the fruit of his mouth. By this he means that the one who speaks wisely eats well because he reaps the rewards of wise speech. Since wise speech pays off but treacherous speech leads to violence, shouldn’t we vigilantly guard the words that come out of our mouths? We must think twice before we speak. The first time we carefully consider what we are going to say and then we ponder whether these words need to be said at all.
Don’t Mix Anger with Your Words
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
“A fools lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.” Proverbs 18:6
A quick temper can lead to a verbal bloodbath. When we get angry and start venting, we speak without any consideration to how what we are saying will affect the people around us. Our anger blinds us to anything but the thing we didn’t get, the situation that didn’t go our way, or the person who disappointed us. In our blowing off steam we do not spend one second thinking about how our words will wound those in our hearing. Instead we make ourselves feel better in a tirade that leaves destruction in its wake. Think about your last angry tirade. You probably don’t remember the things you said in the heat of the moment, but the people around you do.
One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Through the work of God’s Spirit in our lives we can begin to gain control both of our tempers and the words we say when we get angry. The key to dealing with our anger and the resulting verbal barrages that go along with it is to stop and cool off before we speak or act rashly. This can be done by simply getting away by yourself and taking a few minutes to think and pray. When we’re angry we have to regain the perspective we lose in moments of anger and get our spirits cooled down so that we can interact with people in a helpful way. Words spoken in anger will only stir up tension, but speaking calmly from a position of self-control will diffuse tense and difficult situations.
Our words have the capacity to do great things. With our mouths we can share the Gospel, pray, disciple, read Scripture, and sing songs to the Lord. The same mouth can also be used to tear down another person and to berate someone made in the image of God. James said these things cannot come from the same mouth, so we repent and rest in the forgiveness that is found in Christ when we’ve sinned with our lips. Then, through the grace we are shown in the Gospel and the power of God’s Spirit we seek to gain control of our tongues so they might be used again for God’s glory alone.
“How to Stop Losing Your Temper“
For Further Reading:
Uprooting Anger by Robert D. Jones
Resisting Gossip by Matthew Mitchell