Have you ever asked yourself that question? I have! A LOT! This phrase is usually proceeded by a sickening feeling of guilt as my stomach drops. Why do I say things like that? I don’t mean them! But it’s as though my words come flying out of my mouth faster than I think them. And even though I see my quick wit as a blessing when it comes to lively chatter among friends, tragically it can also be the bane of my existence and the reason why many of my conversations begin with “Listen, I’m sorry for saying….”
All too often we can give all sorts of excuses for ranting our frustration out on someone “It’s not my fault that I think this way.” “That’s what I see…” “Sorry if this hurts, but it’s true, so deal with it.” “Hey…I’m just keeping it real!” …and my personal favorite: “I’m from New York…we just say it like it is.” As women, we often have used our speech to spread poison and dissention all in the pursuit of “keeping it real.” And although we live as a generation claiming to hate “fake” and want truth…even the hard truth, I wonder if all this is a valid excuse for speaking our minds and letting everything we think come out…even if it resembles verbal vomit.
Often we become so aggressive with our speech that we forget that we were admonished by God to be examples of peace to the world (Matthew 5:9). God desires us, especially as women, to be wise with our words and not slanderous (Titus 2:3). He says to “be quick to hear, slow to speak,” and instead women are often quick to speak and slow to hear. So how do we break the cycle of casting our verbal assaults onto one another? There is a thought process made of three simple questions that God brought to my attention some time ago that helps me to think before I talk, or in this case, T-I-C before I talk…
T – Is it true?
Before I blurt out the fiery words that are on the tip of my tongue, I must first stop and ask myself, “Is what I am about to say true?” When describing the enemies of the Gospel, Paul says they use “their tongues to deceive” with “the venom of asps under their lips.” (Romans 3:13) James also speaks of the tongue as being “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) Poison is a dangerous toxin. It often slips into the body unnoticed until it is too late. Scripture is spot on in describing our tongues as a poison – by our tongues a poison can creep into our lives unnoticed killing our relationships, hope, unity, trust, faith, acceptance, and love, simply because of the untruth we utter to our brothers or sisters.
The Psalmist urges us, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psalm 34:13) Why? Because the Lord hates those who lie….HATES! (Psalm 5:6) Also, you can’t be speaking peace and uttering lies at the same time. (Psalm 35:20) It just doesn’t work that way. James gives a vivid illustration of this contrasting behavior. A lake wouldn’t produce salt water and fresh water. A fruit tree wouldn’t produce two different kinds of fruit. Neither can blessing and cursing come from the same source. Jeremiah speaks of one who tries to do this in Jeremiah 9:8, “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor, but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.” Growing up, my mother called these my “fair-weather friends.” They were your BFF’s on beautiful days, but the minute a storm came through, they were either nowhere to be seen or causing the torrents of emotions in the first place. And if we’re past the sixth grade, we all have either had this type of friend or we have been them. They are friendly one moment and viciously degrading the next, and they are not a picture of godly friendships. If you are surrounded by these types of friends, distance yourself from them, because sooner or later, you will be influenced by them. If you are like them, seek the Lord’s forgiveness and turn from this verbally assaulting behavior. Be slow to speak, and ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say TRUE? If not, don’t say it. If it is true, however, then ask yourself:
I – Is it improving?
When evaluating our words, the edification of our brother or sister in Christ should always be the goal. Paul reminds us of this repeatedly in his letters to the churches. In Romans 14:19 he says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.” We are to be tenaciously focused on edifying each other. I remember vividly a time when I was calling a friend out for what she was wearing. And while it was true that her skirt was entirely too short, the drop in her countenance proved that my words were NOT edifying, and I had wounded her. If what you want to say cannot properly edify the one you are speaking to, what is the purpose? What good will come of simply expressing your opinion in an effort to “get it off your chest?” Our words should not be selfishly motivated. Even if truthful, they may not be wise to speak. I learned the lesson the hard way that day and hurt a dear friend. First Corinthians 10:23-24 says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” You may be justified in your frustration and need to vent, but wisdom seeks the good of her neighbor, not herself. A wise woman knows when to open her mouth and, more importantly, when to keep her mouth closed. Ephesians 4:29 pointedly says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” I like this clause Paul uses in Ephesians, “as fits the occasion.” Before speaking the truth, ask yourself: does it fit the occasion? Is it improving? Does it edify and build up? Or does it tear down and destroy? First Peter 3:10 says, “For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” Psalm 57:4 describes the person who uses their tongue unnecessarily as a weapon. “My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts—the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.”
James compares the damage our tongues can do to a forest fire. This past August, a golfer in Irvine, California, set up for his swing like he always had, but this day something went terribly wrong. This time, the ball hit a rock which produced a spark that started a fire that destroyed over 25 acres of the western countryside. Something so insignificant, a tiny spark, set ablaze a wildfire that sought to destroy anything and everything in its path. James says that “no man can tame the tongue. It is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Strong words for such a small body part, and yet James is gravely serious in his caution. Speaking unedifying truth can set ablaze a fire that can redirect the entire course of a woman’s life. So, be quick to hear, slow to speak, and ask yourself, “Is the truth I want to say improving?” If it isn’t building up, then hold your tongue. But if it is truthful and improving, then there is one more question to ask:
C – Is it crucial?
The final question I try to ask myself in an effort to be slow to speak is, “Is the improving truth that I want to speak crucial?” Is it important? Does it have to be said? Or is it something that I can either overlook or have patience that the Lord will reveal this to my friend? There is a fine line between confrontation and showing grace to a growing friend. Showing grace should never cause a needed confrontation to not happen. Remember that the wounds of a friend are faithful! Read Katie’s post for more information on the how’s and why’s of biblical confrontation. However, Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds us of a balance when it says, “(There is) a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Not everything MUST be spoken. There is wisdom in guarding our speech and keeping our opinions to ourselves. In Psalm 141:3, the psalmist prays, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Proverbs 13:3 restates this principle with a promise, “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” And James 1:26 really goes for the jugular when he says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart; this person’s religion is worthless.” Every time I read that a part of me cringes. To have my faith become worthless the moment I open my mouth is incredibly humbling to come to terms with. This is probably why in Psalm 39:1, the psalmist announces, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle.” Proverbs 10:19 claims that, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” In other words, when I talk a lot, I end up sinning a lot. Proverbs 21:23 needs to become the mantra of every woman’s life, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” It’s tragically comical when I think how much drama could be avoided in my life by simply keeping my mouth shut. Just because we think it, doesn’t mean it is necessary to speak it. There is wisdom in guarding our speech and keeping the inessential things at bay. For if gaining wisdom or staying drama-free aren’t motivational enough, perhaps having hope is; “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)
Putting a guard over your tongue will not eradicate all the problems in the world, trust me, but it will help greatly in bringing about peace in your life, unity to your family/church, and a positive witness to the world. Matthew says, “BLESSED are the peacemakers!” So, perhaps the next time you are tempted to unload your verbal vomit on those in ear shot with the excuse of “being real,” remember James’s advice, “Be quick to hear, and slow to speak,” listen to Scripture, and “T-I-C” before you talk.