It’s not just what is said, but how it’s said.
Have you ever had a friend who speaks her mind? Just tells you how it is? Do you sometimes feel like you have to walk on eggshells around her because you aren’t sure what might come out of her mouth? Well, I was (and sometimes still am) that friend. I like to think I am being sanctified in that area. I’ve rationalized this as part of my personality—it’s just who I am. But let’s be honest, there’s sin involved. What’s the sin? Is it the bluntness and saying what needs to be said? No, not necessarily. It’s usually less of what is being said and more of how I am saying it.
When I speak my mind, tell it how it is, or am blunt with poor delivery, typically what is said hasn’t been filtered enough to consider the other person’s feelings, or how the other person might be affected by what I say. And that, my friend, is sinful because Philippians 2:3-4 commands us, saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” At first glance, you might not think that you’re being selfish by speaking your mind, especially if what you are saying is true. However, to speak your mind without considering the other parties involved is looking to one’s own interest, not others’.
I like how Proverbs 12:18-19 words it: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Wait, did I say I liked that? Ouch, it actually stings a little to read—maybe because there’s conviction! “Rash” can be defined as displaying or proceeding from a lack of careful consideration for the possible consequences of an action. Who wants to be rash? No one. Synonyms are reckless or impulsive. When one speaks without considering how it might affect others, not only is it selfish, but it’s reckless, and recklessness is destructive—destructive to oneself and to relationships.
In Proverbs 12, these rash words are likened to sword thrusts, which must mean the consequences of a loose tongue are dire. Imagine every reckless word spoken stabbing through someone’s heart with force. Words, even truth, not carefully spoken can damage relationships and cause division among brothers and sisters. We don’t want that because Ephesians 4:3 calls us to make every effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This can’t be accomplished if our words are like sword thrusts. Rash words shouldn’t be disguised as a personality trait but must be recognized for the sin that they are.
I tell myself, “Maybe I shouldn’t talk at all. I’m bound to speak my mind and my rash words will hurt someone.” Come on, don’t go there. Silence isn’t the antidote. Then I think, “Do I have to be quiet and sit back, go along with everyone, and not speak up when I disagree with something?” As I look at scripture, I don’t find that to be the answer either. We’re asked in Proverbs 31:8-9 to open our mouths, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Sometimes it takes a blunt person to accomplish this task. May it be true that when we open our mouth, wisdom and the teaching of kindness are on our tongues (Proverbs 31:26). I’ve come to realize being blunt in itself isn’t sinful, but I sin when I exploit this God-given trait for my good and dominion over people.
It comes down to this: if we are in Christ, we are to put off our old selves, which belongs to our former manner of life, and we are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). This includes not letting any corrupt talk come from our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). The delivery of our words contributes to whether it builds up or tears someone down. Sometimes it might fit the occasion to say nothing at all! If our new selves in Christ are supposed to look like Christ, we have to recognize that Christ did not speak rashly, so neither should we. Instead, Christ spoke hard truth boldly and called people out (Matthew 23:27,33). There’s a time for being straightforward and blunt, but never rash. With a little more thought for our words (James 1:19), we can choose, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to put off our fleshly responses and strive for Christ-likeness. This thoughtfulness makes a world of difference.
Anyone who struggles with speaking rashly in the name of being blunt knows that this isn’t a matter of, “I know this is wrong. I’ll stop and do better next time.” We simply cannot do that; we will continue to hurt people with our words and delivery. There has to be a heart change, which only comes through a relationship with Christ in prayer. That heart change results in a shift of mind, where we desire to be an imitator of God, walking in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2). When we walk in love and look to the interests of others, the words that leave our lips, and the way those words leave our lips, will start to be seasoned with wisdom, love, grace, and kindness.
May the cry of our hearts be Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.” Let this prayer not only be for the sake of unity in relationships but in order to bring God glory with our lives.
Editor's Note: This originally published at Thinking and Theology