I watched a home renovation show recently where the homeowner, a woman, found fault with everyone she came in contact with: the designer re-designing her home, the realtor who was showing her new potential homes, her husband for not speaking up about “their wants” in the house hunt. Her words were sharp and uncomfortable to listen to. Words like:
I wanted an eat-in kitchen. Why did you bring me here? I thought I said we were looking for an open floor plan. I don’t even want to see the rest of this property. This won’t work for me.
Each word that came out of her mouth was a pointed dagger, endangering everyone in her path. And I realized how unattractive a loose mouth was on her. The verse from Proverbs 21:9 came to mind: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”
Although easier to detect in someone else, I realize that my own mouth could match hers at times. Rather than greet my husband with a hug when he comes home from work, I greet him with a list of complaints about how the kids have been acting and what needs to be fixed in the house. Rather than compliment my daughter on everything she does right, I nit-pick on the toys she left out or the mess of towels she left in the bathroom.
The Bible cites speech as an important indicator of one’s character and spiritual state, and here are three important ideas to take note of:
1. My speech should be gracious.
I was reminded the other day how ungracious my own speech can be at times. I was standing at the bus stop talking to my new neighbor and her boyfriend (who was visiting from out-of-town). He introduced himself as the woman’s daughter’s “daddy” — but as he was talking I realized that he had identified his home in another state. I had remembered the woman telling me her daughter’s father lived in our state. So I thoughtlessly asked him, “Her daddy? I thought her father lived here.”
He got a little flustered for a moment and repeated that he was the girl’s daddy and not her father (i.e. the one who had raised her but not her biological parent), and I realized that the most gracious thing for me to have done in that situation was most likely have closed my mouth. In my confusion, I bumbled around trying to work out the complicated family dynamics, and I clearly made them uncomfortable. A little self-control helps me to push the pause button on those probing questions that are perhaps not the best for the moment.
According to Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
I never know who I may be witnessing to unawares, and as a Christian, people are watching me and what I say to determine what they may think about my religion and Jesus Christ. I represent Him everywhere I go, whether I want to or not, and my words need to reflect my life in Him.
2. My speech should be controlled.
A verse in James that is personally hard for me to read is James 1:26: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” I find this verse so difficult because I have such a hard time keeping my mouth shut! Apparently, I am not the only one.
A quick scroll through my Facebook feed reveals comments and sharp opinions made by Christians that belie their religion. I, too, have been guilty of posting a comment in haste, only to regret it later. Not too long ago, I got angry after reading an article on anxiety circulating on Facebook. In a moment of fury, I posted a rant on Facebook. I realize that my words were rash and ill-timed and may have hurt people suffering from anxiety.
I can only imagine the damage. There are some people who can’t trust me anymore or my religion — because everything I said went so clearly against it. However, what I can take comfort in is another verse in James 3:2 that says this: “All of us make a lot of mistakes. If someone doesn’t make any mistakes when he speaks, he would be perfect. He would be able to control everything he does” (God’s WORD® Translation).
God extends grace and helps us become better in this area — even if we feel we struggle to keep our tongues in check. However, I can work on controlling my speech by letting the Holy Spirit have control of me. I am not talking about a weird, spooky control. Rather, when I spend time with God daily and let Him have access to me, the fruits of the spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control — start flowing out of me. I am suddenly able to better harness a tongue I find so difficult to control by myself.
3. My speech should be edifying.
I can still trace back to my childhood and recall negative words spoken over me that helped me along on my own path of self-loathing. I got teased for being really skinny (I went through a growth spurt in the summer of sixth grade and went from being the shortest kid in the class to my full height as an adult. Needless to say, my body took some time to catch up). I got called “anorexic” a lot even though I ate all the time. The way those words were spoken, I felt like I must be some sort of disease. Those words helped to shape damaging thoughts. Thoughts like: No one likes you. Something is wrong with you. You’re different.
The careless words of a few had a devastating effect on my fragile psyche. Unfortunately, there were more negative words spoken than positive words, so in many ways, I didn’t stand a chance. Those words were literally curses that I unfortunately adopted and began speaking over myself.
Michael Hyatt, a blogger, consultant, and former publishing company CEO, shares in a recent podcast about a conference where an author friend came up to him and began to unload in a highly negative fashion how bad his life was at the moment. The friend complained about a bad book deal, a bad publicist, a terrible editor. On and on he rambled. Hyatt notes in the segment that all he wanted to do during that conversation was get out of there. The negative words of the friend literally started to suck the life out of the room. His words not only were having a sour impact on the friend’s happiness and outlook — they were having a negative impact on Hyatt as well.
On the other hand, words well chosen can have the opposite effect on a person and the people we converse with. Note what the Bible says about tasteful speech:
“The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14).
“The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value” (Proverbs 10:20).
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:21).
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
I want to be a woman who builds up and edifies the people around me with what I say. And even though some verses in the Bible remind me how far away I am from hitting the mark, James 3:2 reminds me that I am in process. I don’t always do what I want or say what I want — and if I never messed up, I would be a “perfect [wo]man.” And that is impossible this side of heaven.
So I ask God for help and grace, apologize when I offend, and continually keep in mind that my words say so much about who I am: they are the snapshot of my soul I give to other people.
What about you? Do you struggle sometimes to keep your speech gracious? Share in the box below.