I'm not sure where I heard this, though I am sure that it was when
I was a youngster... And I've heard it a number of times, in various ways,
over the years: These are some great "Guidelines" to help us with the
spiritual discipline of being "slow to speak", as we're encouraged to do
in James 1:19. Indeed, if we were to devote a great deal of energy into
just these three guidelines -- "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and
slow to become angry" -- what a blessing we could be to those around us,
and in so doing, co-operate more fully with the work of the Holy Spirit
inside us and display the glory of Christ more evidently to the world...
So here are some "guidelines" that can help us rein in our speech:
Is it TRUE?
We obviously ought not run around spouting things that are not True;
the absolute Lies are the easy ones. But what about things we say
that we do not KNOW to be True, for certain? Have we got our Facts
quite right? How much of what we blather on about is mere opinion?
If it isn't TRUE, then it shouldn't be said.
Does it NEED to be said?
OK so fine, it's true that that co-worker is lazy, or that man over
there doesn't bathe and is a rather disgusting fellow; yes, it's true,
those comments were sarcastic, but does it not foment additional
animosity to point it out? Might it not be more gracious to let it go,
and let the speaker (hopefully) be impacted by the silence that follows
their caustic remarks? All those bitter opinions, all those cut-downs,
the snide remarks, the brow-beating, the under-the-breath comments in
judgment of someone else... Even if these are True, do they really
NEED to be said? How are they a blessing to anyone who hears them??
If it's True but doesn't NEED to be said, consider not saying it at all
Does it need to be said RIGHT NOW?
There are many, many times where a given comment or remark is
purely benign, or maybe even helpful, and would be a good thing to say,
but is NOW the right time to say it? If my brother is hunched over the
motor of his car and is obviously straining and grunting, trying to get
the wrench positioned just right and is putting all his energy into the
effort, should I choose that precise moment to offer help, distracting him
and forcing him to focus on something other than what he's working so
hard at? Might it not be better to WAIT a minute or two? What makes me
think that my comment or question (True, and Needed) needs to be spoken
right now, urgently, no matter what else may be going on with those
If it's True, and Needed, but doesn't need to be said RIGHT NOW,
consider waiting to say it until a more appropriate moment...
Can it be said NICELY?
So fine, this all-important Comment or Remark or (often rhetorical) Question
is True, it Needs to be said, and it needs to be said Right Now... Can it
at least be said Nicely? My daughter is going out of the house in an outfit
that her parents don't approve of; our son is making a pest of himself in
a group of people we're with; my assessment of the situation, and the comment
I want to make about it is TRUE, and yes it probably does NEED to be said,
and because of the timing of the situation, it does need to be said RIGHT NOW;
but can I not calm my rising anger a great deal, take one second to breathe,
formulate a firm-but-encouraging Instruction for her/him, and deliver it with
a tone more like a "coach" than like a tyrant? How much more of a blessing
could we be to those around us if we simply spoke more NICELY, and with more
GRACE injected into our words and tone?
If it's True, and it Needs to be said, and it needs to be said Right Now,
then at least try to find a Nice way to phrase and deliver it...
It's not difficult to see that the first of these would capture a great deal
of what we let flow out of our mouths every day; the second would filter out
another huge segment; the third would relieve those around us of our self-imposed
sense of "urgency" to speak; the fourth would render what is left over much
more like "apples of gold in pictures of silver" (or, "a word fitly spoken",
and again, "a gentle answer turns away wrath")... Proverbs has quite a bit
to say on this topic.
May God Himself help us to devote ourselves to following these simple
"guidelines" for how we manage that poisonous piece of flesh behind
- "Those who consider themselves religious and yet
do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves,
and their religion is worthless." - James 1:26