As a first year teacher, I talked far too much in faculty meetings. In my rookie idealism, I believed 1) I knew something worth sharing, and 2) people actually cared what I thought. I was wrong on both counts. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth shut in meetings unless I could add value.
When I was a child, a popular TV commercial proclaimed, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen."
“Why are people so anxious to listen to E.F. Hutton?” I wanted to know, hoping to learn the secret to his success. (Investment banking didn’t make sense to me as a kid.)
"Because he only speaks when he has something worthwhile to say," an adult told me. Sadly, the subtext of this advice was lost on me for many years. My words are responsible for 99.9% of the hurt, pain, and embarrassment I’ve caused myself and others throughout my life. And now that I write, publish a web page, and post on several social media sites, my power to hurt has expanded.
Ecclesiastes 3:7, NKJV reminds us, there’s "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
The time to speak is when our words will help, encourage, or lift up. Consider these prophetic words in Isaiah 50:4, NKJV: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.”
Proverbs 31:8-9, ESV reminds us we have a duty to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves: "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31: 8-9, ESV
But just because we have the ability and right to speak doesn’t mean we should.
The Bible suggests that words should be chosen carefully: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11, ESV
Why are words were compared to inedible gold and silver fruit? Perhaps for the very reason that these gold and silver apples, like an appropriate comment, are equally noteworthy, valuable, and rare.
Words carry value, and they should not be used carelessly. No matter how “right” we are, we’re counseled to use caution before speaking (or writing…or posting…).
James 1:19 reminds us, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” NKJV. James goes on to make an even stronger statement regarding our choices in what we say: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 1:26, NKJV
Even Jesus chose to keep silent on several occasions when I’m sure there was plenty He could have said.
Both our Creator and our country give us the ability and right to say whatever we like. But every word we say affects other people. We have a responsibility to be aware of the audience, the time, the place, and the situation whenever we open our mouths.
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and main.” Proverbs 15:4, The Message
Just because we have the ability and right to speak doesn’t mean we should.