When I was young, my grandfather would whisper in my ear over and over a beautiful piece of paternal wisdom, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about dinner, don’t say anything at all if you want to live.” He would faithfully share that with me each and every time my grandmother would make liver and onions for dinner. I have often looked back through my adult life and considered the numerous times I should have applied that wisdom to more than my grandmother and mother’s cooking.
I have repeatedly noticed how our mouths get us into trouble.
From a small, tearful disagreement with our spouse or other family member, caused by a hurtful word, to having a knockdown, drag-out fight, explaining to your children why you’re sleeping on the couch for a month (burning the house to the ground kind of troubles). Our wild mouths, fueled by our sinister hearts, can incinerate the best of relationships in an instant. I understand we may think we’re just sharing personal feelings from our hearts, but the reality is that it becomes more like vindictive, drunken knife throwing. Jeremiah warned, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We are so quick to speak from our hearts without ever really considering the facts; we can never unsay what we have said. There are no “take backs,” and the things we say can hurt so many.
If we are, for one moment, so self-deceived to think our words don’t matter, we are sorely mistaken.
What we say and how we say it will always matter. King Solomon penned, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). James wrote to the church about the use of our speech, the whole body and sets:
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3: 6-10).
Never has there been a truer statement. We all need to start considering what we say before we say it. This is not always an easy task, but one well worth the time and effort to build up others with all the things we say. Negative speech is incredibly destructive. Paul said, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
Many of us may not realize that our speech is fueled by the deep things in our hearts, whether good or bad.
Our speech then becomes a practical manifestation of sin or righteousness that is living in our hearts. Jesus said:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33–37).
We love to hear ourselves talk, and talk and talk yet the more, never considering that there is much to be learned by listening. James said, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). We never speak in a vacuum, our words matter. The harsh words we say are never bringing about a righteousness of some kind; no matter how justified we think we are.
The Almighty God of heaven, the Holy and Just Judge, He is always listening and will hold us accountable for every word spoken, the ones in haste and the ones in love. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). God always knows the motivations within our hearts, even when we don’t. So, maybe the next time we are about to lose our cool or we are moved to say something about our feelings, we should take the time to slow down and consider our words and choose to act prudently and not compulsively. “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard. Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool lays open his folly (Proverbs 13:15–16).