Watch What You Say
By Mark Anderson
Freedom of speech. The U.S. Constitution guarantees all of us the right to freedom of speech. By law, certain types of speech are not allowable, however, such as speech that incites violence, that is slanderous, or that is harmful to someone’s reputation. With these and other certain restrictions, we are free in this country to express ourselves without restraint.
Having such broad liberty of expression, we might be tempted to misuse it. What constitutes “good” speech? And what is “bad” speech? How should we use our freedom of speech well?
The Bible contains many verses that address the area of speech in our lives. Here is a sample of seven of them:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6 NIV)
What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. (Matthew 15:11 NIV)
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2 NIV)
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4 ESV)
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3 ESV)
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24 ESV)
These are all verses that encourage believers to speak well and avoid negative or sinful talk. For me, one of the most convicting verses in Scripture that warns me of the consequences of my speech is Matthew 12:36 ESV: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”
I have let many careless words leave my lips, and I’m sure we all say things that we wish we hadn’t. I realize the importance of repentance, and the need for God’s forgiveness. No one is perfect, and it is so easy to err in this part of my life.
Scripture also encourages believers to focus less on speaking and more on listening. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 10:19 NIV) “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19 NIV)
I have the freedom to speak, but I need to listen more than I speak, and I need to watch what I say when I speak. I also need to remember that “the tongue has the power of life and death.” (Proverbs 18: 21 NIV).
Mark Anderson lives in Bluffton with his wife and one of his four children and attends LowCountry Community Church. The family recently moved from the Baltimore area, after Mark retired from a career with the federal government. He enjoys writing, walking on the beach, and spending time with new friends.