Talk is Not Cheap
Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.
We’re all familiar with the expression, “talk is cheap,” when a person’s actions don’t match up with their words. But, in reality, words can be very costly. They can give life or tear down. Online or in person, to your face or behind your back, words are powerful.
That’s why the Bible is full of warnings about the tongue. It can be an instrument used for great good, but it can also cause hurt and damage. One day, we will give an account for every careless word spoken (Matthew 12:36). This is because our words make a statement about ourselves, our faith, and the God of our faith.
So it’s crucial for Christians to be wise and discerning in speech.
Although there are lots of sins of the tongue we could talk about, here are a four common ways our words can do harm:
1. Speaking with a critical spirit
It has been said that it takes seven compliments to undo the effects of one criticism. It’s so true, isn’t it? We often slip into the sin of judgmentalism where we’re always finding fault with everyone and everything. We even do this with our own families.
When my kids were younger and playing sports, I found myself always looking for the negative instead of encouraging the positive. On more than one occasion, my kids felt my critical spirit on the car ride home from a game. I’ve had to apologize to them for the damage my words caused, and I’ve realized my words said more about me and the idols of my own heart than them. There are times we need to speak truth, but we should always do it in a spirit of love.
2. Speaking too quickly
James 1:19-20 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
One thing I’ve noticed on social media is how quickly people feel the need to weigh in and speak about events and topics before they know all the facts. We all remember when a group of Catholic school boys from Kentucky appeared to harass an elderly Native American man at a pro-life rally in Washington, D.C. Within 24 hours, Twitter users piled up condemnations on the sixteen-year-olds, calling out those who were not condemning fast enough. An independent investigation later concluded that the boys didn’t initiate the confrontation.
We all make mistakes, but how often do we discredit ourselves by not heeding James’s advice to be slow to speak? Social media allows our words to reach hundreds or even thousands of people. And yet we tend to be less careful about what we say than ever before. A good piece of advice I recently read is to set a time limit before you speak or write on a public platform and speak only after careful consideration.
3. Speaking unnecessarily
Do we really need to comment on everything happening in our culture as if we are experts? For the most part, we’re not. Yes, let’s be well informed. Let’s be well read. Let’s know the issues going on in our culture, including politics. But let’s also have self-awareness and humility, knowing our limits.
In our pride, we often want to be heard on everything, yet we so often lack the necessary knowledge. And as Christians, when we get things wrong, it undermines our witness and credibility. This hurts the gospel. After all, why should anyone believe the things we say about Jesus when we’ve been wrong so many other times?
4. Speaking in anger
James 1 also reminds us that we should be slow to anger. This is tough when we live in a culture of outrage. These are polarizing times. And it’s easy to get caught up lashing out and mocking others because we ourselves are angry and embittered. In those exchanges, we rarely convince the person we’re arguing with or change their minds. It’s a no-win game. So don’t play it.
Yes, there is a righteous anger that is constructive. There are times we shouldn’t be silent, such as the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, which exposed abuse of power and led to significant action. But much of our anger is not righteous.
Here’s a novel thought: What if we as Christians displayed more of the fruit of the spirit in our speech with others, whether online or in person? Instead of anger and criticism, what if we exhibited love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control?
I wonder if that would make a difference. Maybe a gentle answer would go a long way in helping heal a broken world. The more we remember the kindness and grace that God shows sinners like us in Christ, the more we’ll treat others with that same kindness, especially with our words. And who knows, it might cause people to think differently about Christians. And about our Jesus.
Looking for a way to slow down, spend time in scripture, and reflect on the way you speak to others? Check out Dave Cover's podcast, A Bigger Life. Each episode with help you break through the distractions of your day and enjoy meaningful time with God.