Have you ever heard the saying, “you can’t put toothpaste back into the tube”? One that I think is more common is, “you can’t unring a bell.” They both have the same point, once you have said or done something, you can’t take it back. This is one of the life lessons that Solomon was passing onto his children in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.”
We all know that the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, is a huge lie. Yet, we are still often so careless with what comes out of our mouth. If I was going to try to sum up the teachings in Proverbs 18, I would say there are two primary focuses. First, our speech matters. Second, we need to protect our relationships. Truthfully, both themes go together. I have seen and I have had relationships that have been hurt or broken by things that are said. The Bible also teaches that with our mouth we can give blessings or we can utter curses. The Bible has a lot to say about what we say. So, how can we guard ourselves from harming those we care about?
- Sometimes, silence is golden. What did the great theologian, Thumper’s mom from Bambi say? If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. That was wise for a quick witted bunny, and it is wise advice for you and I. We don’t have to speak into every situation. James 1 says, “Let ever man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This leads into the second thing we can learn.
- Think twice, speak once. At times, I react in the moment instead of remembering James 1:19-20 mentioned above. In those times, I almost always regret or wish I could take back what I said. This is because many of those times, I am responding out of hurt. Someone said something that hurt me, so I want them to feel what I’m feeling. However, as a child of God, I want to represent my Heavenly Father faithfully, and hurting people doesn’t accomplish that purpose. We live in a day and age of the “hot take.” Think about our political system. The President gives the State of the Union Address, and within five minutes, the opposition party is giving their response. I know they in many cases have insight as to what is going to be said, but they haven’t digested it all. Social media is worse! Everyone has suddenly become an expert on everything, and they think the masses are just waiting on their words of wisdom. Sometimes, we just need to be honest and remember that we don’t know everything. Not everything going on requires my two cents. One rule I have given myself concerning digital communication is this, when I have hurt or frustrated, go ahead and type out the email, tweet, or post, but don’t hit send. Instead, go back and read it again. This time, read it through the lenses of Scripture. Does it honor God? Is what I am saying necessary to say at this moment and in this way? Will it influence people towards Jesus or push them away from Him? The result, most of the time I go back and delete what I have written. The amazing thing is, I feel better having put my words down on paper, but I don’t have to live with the regret of the hurt my words would have caused. I don’t have to go back and ask the person for forgiveness for what I said.
I hope that we can all sit back and think through what we are about to say. How many relationships could be saved if we did this? May God help us to communicate with others in a way that pleases Him!
By His grace and for His glory,