One warm day in Florida, I was walking along a sandy road with a new friend. She had just moved into the neighborhood and we hit it off immediately. I was eleven years old, but I still remember the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze and how excited we were to throw marshmallows to the alligators. Two boys crossed our path. I snickered and said, “The brown-haired one is really cute. How’d the blond-headed one get to be so ugly?” My new friend looked at me searchingly for a second before whispering, “That’s my brother.”
Have you ever said something thoughtless and regretted it for years? This particular incident took place almost thirty years ago, yet I’ll never forget the hurt I saw in the eyes of my sweet new friend. I still feel ill when I think how my cruel and unnecessary words caused such pain. Even though she never held it against me, that conversation will probably haunt me forever. And unfortunately, incidents of thoughtless words didn’t end with my childhood.
Proverbs 10:19 reads, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” This verse teaches the wisdom of learning to choose words carefully and sparingly. When we simply start talking, without weighing our words and considering the consequences, chances are we will somehow sin. It’s too easy to let our guards down and our lips loose. It’s all too tempting to think others want or need to know our opinions on everything…how a program should have been run, what the leaders should be doing, a young mother’s unusual approach to child-rearing. “There is one who speaks the piercings of the sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health” (Prov. 12:18). Before speaking we must ask, “Will my words tear down or build up?” “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil” (Prov. 15:28).
Our words can cause pain in the heart of a beloved spouse. They can promote insecurity in the mind of an innocent child. They can make new Christians feel inadequate. They can make church leaders feel overwhelmed, or discourage zealous members who have a mind to work. What power we have with our tongues! James 3:9 reads, “No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” Watching our words is a lifetime practice. The tongue can never be freed, assuming it will only do as we want. It must always be bridled and diligently guarded.
A helpful exercise is to go through the book of Proverbs and underline every verse that has to do with the mouth, tongue, lips or words. There are over a hundred of them! It’s a good eye-opener to the emphasis God places on the accountability of our words. It will expose your speech as either righteous or foolish.
To avoid hurting others with our words, we must continuously put our thoughts through a sieve before we speak them. Sift out everything negative, critical, bitter, malicious or insinuating. Speak only what is encouraging, uplifting, positive, complimentary, supportive and truthful. “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23).
Prayer for Today: Please help me remember, Lord, that I will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word I have spoken (Matt. 12:36).