Xenocrates said, “I have often repented speaking, but never of holding my tongue.” With due respect to the leader of the Platonic Academy, I can identify a few times in my life when I have held my tongue. There are a few, precious few, times when I believe I should have spoken further during a discussion. In defense of Xenocrates, I carry far more memories of speaking too much where my words were born from emotion and vexation rather than calm and reason.
The current political season has people saying many things. Christians of one political stripe are speaking of fellow Christians with words of anger, division, and judgement. Someone noted an employee at a Christian college, promoting one Presidential candidate, said of believers supporting a different candidate. “When the election is over, what will become of XXXXX’s evangelical supporters? Only a few will realize that they sold their birthright for a bowl of lentils, and the lentils were rotten. I don’t look for massive repentance.” Those are strong words where one could easily find faculty, staff, Trustees, alumni, and individuals for whom campus buildings are named all supporting the opposing candidate. Now, we are all entitled (in the USA) to our own political opinion. How can we engage in political discourse and exemplify Christian attitudes?
Political convictions have always made for strong feelings of emotion. Sometimes those feelings quickly boil over into words that create confrontation and result in broken relationships. The proliferation of social media platforms created forums where people have a limited number of characters to speak. These limits increase the pressure to speak quickly…sometimes too quickly.
We all struggle with creating more problems than solutions through our words. Scripture is clear that one of the common traits of disciples of Jesus is self-control (e.g. Galatians 5:23, 2 Timothy 1:7, 2 Peter 1:6). God is glorified when “the world” sees God’s people exercising this trait. Scripture also provides us with guidelines that help us control our speech so that it helps rather than hurts!
First, we should check the source of our words. The third chapter of James’ letter to first century believers focuses upon controlling the tongue. The reason is simple, the words we use come from the deepest, innermost depths of our thoughts and motives. James 3:8-10 says, “No one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”
We need to ask ourselves, “Why am I about to write these words? Am I seeking what is best, or am I trying to put this person into their place? If I am putting them into their place, do I have the qualification, authority, or responsibility to do that? Our motive for what we plan to say is vital, because followers of Christ are called to bless and not curse others. Let’s begin by making sure our words are not intended to be snarky or condescending.
Next, we should caution ourselves about the potential result of what we are about to say or type. Galatians 5:14-15 “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Looking back on things I have said or written, I am sometimes struck with the thought, “I inflicted pain. I didn’t help at all.”
The ultimate effect of our words extends well beyond the immediate instance. What impact might our words have upon those who do not follow Christ? If non-believers see Christians emotionally devouring one another, their response is likely to be, “I don’t need that. This is more of what I already experience in my life.” This is not to say that Christians should not confront one another about sin. Nor should Christians simply step away from the political arena to avoid conflict. However, we cannot say strongly enough that we need to exercise caution about the impact of the words we employ.
Finally, we must commit ourselves to better speech. “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:29-31) We should ask ourselves, “Can I say this in a manner that is more helpful than what I have typed? Is what I am planning to say going to be helpful or only inflict pain?” Pain is not always a bad thing. We all need to feel the pain of sin on the way to repentance. However, pain never needs to be the goal of our words. Are the words I intend to use reflective of the grace that God has extended to me and to the other person, or do they reflect my emotions?
It is SO easy to say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. Emotions run high and anger comes to the surface. Voices intensify and volumes increase. Words fly through our minds and sometimes through our mouths or our fingers in an instant. As followers of Jesus, God has called us to a higher purpose. Thankfully he instilled a new nature, with new traits within the believer. He has urged us to exercise self-control. He has placed guidance before us that will enable us to accomplish His purpose. May our words be filled with grace!