You Said It

speech bubbles-1“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” ― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls

You’re leaving a trail. It goes all the way back to when you first learned to speak, and it represents your beliefs, feelings and priorities over the years. It’s a trail that’s blessed some, offering comfort and inspiration, and laid a wounding curse on others. It’s also veered from left to right, I’ll bet, changing direction at times and sometimes even contradicting itself.

But it’s there nonetheless, telling us a great deal about you. It’s the Complete Works of Your Mouth, Volumes 1-100, an opus still in progress. And while actions do speak louder than words, a fact John alluded to when he encouraged us to love not only in word but also in deed and truth (I John 3:18) the fact remains that words speak pretty loudly, too. (Case in point – are we talking more about what Romney and Obama have done, or about what they’ve said?) So, the importance of action notwithstanding, your words largely and explicitly define you.

That tells me that my works should be found right and useful before God, and my words, like my works, should be considered beforehand, expressed in the most God honoring way, and recognized for what they are: my legacy.

Not my only one, I know, and certainly not yours. Much of what you’ve done will testify to your character, and to what’s mattered most to you. But your words, too, will always be associated with your name in the minds of the people who’ve heard them. They’ve had impact, for better or worse, and perhaps more than you know. So when Jesus said “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37) He gave us a practical tip and a stone cold warning: Watch Thy Mouth.

No small challenge. James nailed it when he said “The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things (James 3:5) and that “if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” (James 3:2) In other words, if you successfully manage your tongue, then you can do just about anything. So in the interest of better Mouth Management, let’s remember a couple verbal missteps scripture warns us against.

First, keep the Cart before the Horse to avoid becoming an Ass.

That is, think first. James said “Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak — “ (James 1:19) and Solomon warned “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13) There’s really nothing wrong with holding back until you know what you’re talking about. To listen more than you speak, and to hear a matter in its entirety before commenting on it, is wisdom. I cringe when I remember the times I’ve done a knee-jerk with my mouth, blurting out advice or commentary before hearing all the details of a controversy, reacting too quickly and charging ahead, verbally, without waiting to hear all sides out. It’s the mark of a wise woman or man to judiciously consider before speaking; someone less than wise is usually known for their quick and ill-informed blurts. Let’s you and I try to stay in the first category.

Second, if it Divides, let it Slide.

Don’t say words that will divide people. While you’re at it, don’t lay down with a man as one would lay with a woman, unless you’re a woman wearing the ring of the man you’re laying with. Don’t use diverse weights and measures, and don’t make money by melting, then selling, a heathen idol. What do gossip, homosexuality, double standards and idolatry have in common? They’re all abominations, according to scripture.  (Leviticus 20:13, Proverbs 6:16, Proverbs 20:10, Deuteronomy 7:25) And yes, the same Hebrew word for “abomination” used in reference to sexual perversion is used for speech that turns people against each other.

Truth divides, I know. But if my words, even if true, needlessly disrupt relationships and hurt reputations, that I’ve got blood on my hands. Now Paul himself openly rebuked people in doctrinal or moral error, no doubt creating division. (See, for example Galatians 2:11 or I Corinthians 5:1-5) But it was division for the sake of the truth, in the best interests of all involved. In most cases, division comes from the spread of outright lies, or truths that could have/should have been dealt with discreetly. So if I’m considering whether or not to say something controversial, I’d better know before God that there’s an unquestionable need to say it, and that I’m saying it with the welfare of everyone involved as my priority.

If we can accomplish those two simple goals – speak after listening; avoid division when possible – we’ll have been good stewards of the hardest part of the body to tame and, in the process, we’ll secure for ourselves a legacy that’s sound, and honorable.

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