Our speech is important, it reflects what we think. It shows forth what kind of people we are. In our speech we can be kind to people, we can be encouraging, we can be up building and positive. Or we can be discouraging, critical, condemning, putting people down and even mean.
The tone of our speech is important. It can be friendly, courteous, open, or arrogant, rude, distant, sarcastic, belittling. The Internet has become a laboratory of how mean, vicious, and ugly human speech can become. People will say things to one another electronically that they would likely not say when speaking face to face. The degradation of speech, whether spoken or written, is shameful.
The scriptures give us guidance in how we should talk: “pleasant speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent,” (Proverbs 10:19) “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Gossip can be bad, implying wrong or repulsive behavior by another based on an opinion of the speaker that lacks roots in reality. Then when repeated and repeated, it gets less and less accurate and more and more unfair. “You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand forth against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:16) Rather than talking behind someone’s back, if we are cordial and direct in offering correction, we may be helpful. “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23)
On the other hand, we should be free to speak responsibly. Political Correctness can produce a culture of avoiding saying things that need to be said. Although, I seek to make the case here that our speech should be instructive and helpful—we uphold the principle of freedom of speech. That means that we tolerate speech that we do not like, and that we disagree with. To limit freedom of speech is to give birth to tyranny. That is, an elite group has the power to control what we say, what we talk about, ultimately what we think.
James reminds us that the tongue is a dangerous instrument that can do great harm. But, of course, it can do great good. Think of the words of the prophets, the apostles, of Christ our Savior! We should want our speech to be of that category—helpful, instructive, encouraging. We are to bear witness, we are to uphold the causes of our Lord, but we are to do so in a manner that commends itself. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, anapt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth,” (II Timothy 2:25,25)
We are to speak, and in our speaking we are to give evidence of the goodness of God. We are to commend our Savior to others, because they see in us understanding and respect. In all of our conversations and communications may God help us to be a blessing!
Foster H. Shannon, Brief Biographical Note
Dr. Foster Shannon received his degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Political Science, and went on to obtain a Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary, with emphasis on church growth.
He is currently Interim Pastor of True Light Presbyterian Church in Alhambra, CA. He is the author of seven books and a Sunday School curriculum. He is the President of Green Leaf Press, a non-profit Christian publishing company, which he established with others in 1981. Green Leaf Press, Inc. publishes and markets Christian books with special emphasis on Bible Study, Church Growth, and Christian Evidences. The website is: www.gogreenleaf.com. He enjoys riding his bicycle and swimming weekly. He likes both classical and popular music. He roots for the CAL Bears and the Chicago Cubs.
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