I've been thinking a lot about words lately -- my own and those of others. Beautiful words are like exquisite music;, misspoken ones are like fingernails screeching across a chalkboard. Appropriate speech heals; abusive speech destroys.
Like many people who love to talk, I've opined when it would have been better for me to be silent. I've sent more than my share of needless syllables into the universe. Some of those have been hurtful. It may not have been my overt intention to cut someone's heart, but my inappropriate speech reflected something inconsiderate within me. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Why am I so focused on words right now? As the November elections approach, there are a lot of words flying around right now. We hear about tiffs between various pundits, between pundits and their bosses, and between politicians. We hear pundits and politicians hurl insults at voters, and we hear voters hurl insults at politicians and pundits. We've hear "comedians" and other public figures state that anyone who believes in God must have a deficiency in intelligence. We see people violate the privacy of the grieving by using funerals as a platform to express political and religious statements. We listen to "news" which consists of someone in the public sphere making a "statement" of some kind, which is followed by hours and hours of people judging and analyzing the statement,which is followed by hours of people judging the words of the people who were judging the statement, and so forth, until we forget what the original statement was all about. We watched political ads that attack opposing candidates and hear analyses of these ads. Just to keep things interesting, we are fed our doses of celebrity gossip.
All of us are involved in the "public dialogue" in some way. We chat at work. We blog. We talk to spouses and children. We shoot the breeze with neighbors. We fellowship with friends at church. We vote as members or officers of organizations. Even if we keep our conversations apolitical, as I try to do, we influence others in the topics we do talk about.
Whether we talk to one person at a time or whether we broadcast to millions, our words build others up up or they tear others down. Gossip is gossip whether we dish the dirt about our neighbor or whether we cluck about the a famous celebutante. We do harm when we lash out at our spouse and we do harm when we lash out at political opponents, rather than engage in respectful dialogue. On the other hand, we encourage and influence others through positive, reasonable conversation.
Positive speech is not synonymous with sweet speech. There are times when it is necessary to speak truth, even though someone does not want to hear it, and, rarely, there are times to speak with truly righteous indignation. However, even in these times, we can do our best to communicate our respect and concern for our listener(s).
When under pressure, it's not always easy to engage in speech that both conveys one's own conviction and yet that also communicates respect for someone of an opposing view. It's also not easy to speak always in a way that inspires, ra
So, I ask myself, what would happen if every person in the United States, myself included, paid more attention to these three perfect pieces of advice?
1) Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:19
2) 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. Ephesians 4: 29
3) If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol....love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. it is not proud. It is not rude. it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protect, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13.
What do you think? What would our lives be like if we all always kept these commands in mind? Would the results be more peace in our world? More love? More respect? Of course, these three verses are from God's word -- not God's word as people imagine it in order to fit some personal or political agenda, but as He actually inspired it.
Taming the tongue isn't easy. I know that from experience. But, it's our only hope if we want to speak in ways that yield results, rather than to create more tension and turmoil. How about you? Are you up for taking the challenge for me? Are you willing to spend the next thirty days thinking about these three commands from God's word and letting them be guides for your heart and your tongue?