It is human nature to have relationships with people and engage in conversations. As Christians, we know that our guidance about human relationships is provided in the Bible. But what about the everyday activity of talking? It seems simple, yet the Bible includes a wealth of verses about talking. We are warned that if we leave our mouths open, we will come to ruin, but if we guard what we say, we can preserve our lives (Proverbs 13:3). In Ephesians, Paul reminds us we cannot allow corrupt talk out of our mouths, but instead, we should speak only to lift up others (Ephesians 4:29). And in James, we are told to spend our time listening and not talking or reacting in an angry way (James 1:19). Paul again tells us our speech should be gracious and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).
But what is the purpose of seasoning our speech with salt? The verse continues on and tells us our speech should be seasoned with salt so that we will know how we are to answer. This indicates there will be times when we are to speak, and, in speaking, we must select our words carefully. This is conveyed in Proverbs 15:1 as well:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1).
And again, in Proverbs:
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11).
As Christians, are there situations when we should not speak but other times when we are expected to speak? If so, when is communicating the right thing to do? And if so, how can we know what to say?
We can find instructions or guidance in both the Old and New Testaments.
“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.” (Zechariah 8:16)
In Proverbs, we are reminded again to speak truthfully, “A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.” (Proverbs 14:25). And again, in Proverbs 12: 17-19, “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”
And in Matthew, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37).
One common theme among the verses is to be very careful with what we say and how we say it. But are there times when, as Christians, we feel compelled to speak out? When holding our tongue would bring a worse consequence than taking the risk to speak? And if this is true, how do we know we are called to speak?
We can find guidance for these situations as well. Proverbs tells us, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9).
And when in doubt about when to speak, remember this from Acts, “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.'” (Acts 5:29)
These verses tell us what we need to know as Christians. Be truthful, always speak in a manner that reflects God’s intentions for our lives, speak to defend the poor and needy, and always, no matter what, obey God rather than men. With these general guidelines, our words can set an example for others and uplift those in need.
Books by Terry Overton