A while back, I offended someone very close to me. I fell victim to saying something I wished I hadn’t. I said the wrong thing at the worst possible time. The real problem was that I didn’t think before I spoke. I speedily apologized to this person and sorted out the mess that my words had gotten me into.
Do the words you speak have a direct impact on the lives of others? Read James 3:2-10. These scriptures trumpet a resounding YES! James tells us that the tongue is “unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” Man can tame the beasts of the field but cannot tame his tongue. All it takes is one or two ill-placed words, and you have offended someone, started a rumor, gossiped or criticized, and eroded a portion of your character. You and I really need to be aware of just how serious this problem is. The bridling of our tongue takes effort—a conscious, daily, minute-by-minute effort—to think before we speak.
Speaking the right words at the right time can mean the difference between success and failure. The application of God’s principles on this subject will greatly improve your ability to get along with others and help you develop further friendships.
How Do Your Words Affect Others?
“A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (Proverbs 18:6-7). Ill-spoken words cause strife and contention between ourselves and others. Some of us may speak “like the piercings of a sword …” (Proverbs 12:18).
We must be aware of what we are saying and how we are saying it, lest unknowingly—or, worse yet, knowingly—we offend others.
Examine how you use your tongue.
Just as we can hurt others with our words, so can we speak soothing and beneficial words that build, uplift and strengthen those around us. The correct use of these words takes the wisdom of God: “… but the tongue of the wise is health” (Proverbs 12:18). “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life .… Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 15:4; 16:24). Soothing and beneficial words can actually be health to our bones. Think about that!
Speaking such words in sincerity will serve to keep our minds better focused on living the “give way,” the way Herbert W. Armstrong described as outflowing love one toward another. We must be living this way of life.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). These are the kinds of words we must be speaking: fitly spoken words.
Each day we come into contact with family, friends, teachers, employees or maybe local church members. What we say and how we say it affects not only them, but also us—either positively or negatively. And once spoken, we can’t take our words back!
The son of King David, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 3:11-12), fully understood the vital importance of being careful with words. He gave us specific, canonized instructions about what to say and what not to say, how to say it and when to say it.
A Time to Speak
King Solomon showed us that there is a time for everything. He instructed us that there is both “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7).
Should we just say the first thing that comes into our mind—or think about it first? “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Proverbs 29:20). “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28). “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
Humanly it is tempting, especially when we are angry, to speak the first thought that comes into our minds. But don’t! Wait! Stop for a few seconds, and think about what you should say. You may decide to say nothing and wait for a better opportunity to respond. Be sure of this: Whatever you say must fit the occasion. Remember, God wants us to speak words fitly spoken.
Fitly spoken words can provide us with true godly joy and delight—and at the same time, keep us out of trouble. “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! … Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 15:23; 21:23).
Your words can also calm tensions. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). By remaining calm and not raising your voice, you can avoid frivolous quarrels and friction.
Solomon stressed the importance of speaking the truth at all times. He said, “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish” (Proverbs 19:9). “The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment. … Lying lips are abomination to the [Eternal]: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Proverbs 12:19, 22).
Telling the truth is vitally important to God. He made sure to write it in His own handwriting on the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16). Satan injects the temptation to deceive others, to twist the facts in favor of oneself. “Honesty is the best policy,” even when it hurts. You will be known by those around you for either your honesty or dishonesty.
Be sure not to enter into rash or hasty promises that you know you will not be able to honor. Think before you promise to do something you may have to back out of, making yourself a liar and damaging your credibility.
Some individuals, it seems, are always talking, rarely allowing others the chance to contribute to a conversation.
King Solomon tells us that a person who spares his words is wise. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). “He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27-28).
If you are the type who dominates conversations, be sure to stop and think before you speak. Ask yourself the question, “Is my comment going to be uplifting, helpful and edifying?” If you are in doubt, don’t speak, just listen. Become a better listener and thinker.
Most people who talk a lot are not good at listening to others because they are too preoccupied with thinking about what they are going to say next. They miss the important details within the conversation and often interrupt, wanting to inject their own comments, often answering a matter before they even know the real issues. What does God think about this? “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13).
Becoming a good listener goes a long way toward building true friendships, and you will find you’ll learn a great deal more about others in the process.
We have all met boasters: those individuals who brag about themselves, their abilities, their families or their lofty (likely unattainable) future plans. Do you fit this description? We all must constantly examine ourselves, testing, proving and overcoming. We should all think before we begin “tooting our own horn” (James 3:5). “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1), but rather “[l]et another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips” (verse 2). How much more rewarding and satisfying it is to receive recognition from someone else’s lips than our own self-serving words! You’ll find that people will want to spend more time with you because your main topic of conversation is not yourself or your own interests and abilities. Others will be more likely to believe good words spoken about you by the lips of others than by your own lips.
Avoid Certain Topics
It is best to avoid certain topics of conversation. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4). Do you appear pure at church services and then display improper conduct, humor or conversation in private? Verse 4, in the Moffatt, reads: “No, nor indecent, silly, or scurrilous [vulgar, abusive] talk—all that is improper.”
A wise person will refrain from criticizing or putting down people and gossiping about them. “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace. A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Proverbs 11:12-13). Gossiping can cause great harm; it serves no benefit. “A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends” (Proverbs 16:28; see also Proverbs 17:9 and 26:20-21). Through gossip, one can damage the reputation of another, often unjustly, and even separate the best of friends in the process.
Before repeating a matter, be sure it is truthful and will not harm the person you are talking about. Remember, think before you speak. If you know of something that could damage the credibility and reputation of another person, don’t repeat it. If you cannot say something positive about another person, why say anything at all?
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
We should be striving always to build up and encourage others. Display a genuine outflowing concern for the good and welfare of others. Help and encourage those around you to do their best, excelling in all areas of life. By esteeming others more highly than ourselves, we will be less inclined to point out their faults and personal shortcomings. When dealing with difficult people, be sure to set the standard and move the conversation to a higher plane than the “self.”
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Here we are instructed in an invaluable principle we all must apply in our daily speaking opportunities. Simply, we should treat other people the same way we would like to be treated. People tend to treat us the same way we treat them. Being sincerely friendly, honest, unselfish and encouraging to others will motivate them to provide us with the same courtesy.
King David was very careful about how he spoke and what he spoke about. He said, “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psalm 39:1). David made sure he looked to God, as we all must, for the essential assistance in controlling the tongue. He asked God humbly for His help: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Just as David did, we must ask God for wisdom to control our speech (James 1:5).
Ask God daily for this wisdom to say the right words at the right time, speaking fitly spoken words that edify and uplift. God will give us this wisdom if we sincerely desire it and are striving to do those things that please Him (1 John 3:22).
The individual who thinks before he or she speaks will receive the assured benefits and blessings God offers us. Look at some of those blessings, promised in Scripture: “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend” (Proverbs 22:11). “Righteous lips are the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right” (Proverbs 16:13). “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction” (Proverbs 13:3). “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11).
If we are careful in what we say, we will enjoy true peace of mind, knowing that we have not offended others by careless or unkind remarks. We will be working toward the fulfillment of Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
Our speech is important to God. Christ said that it is a direct reflection of what we spend our time thinking about (Matthew 12:34). Let’s strive both individually and collectively to guard our mouths. When you do this, you will be one who speaks fitly spoken words. So make sure you think before you speak! ▪