Christ spoke with righteous anger to the Pharisees and to those making a mockery of the temple. There is a place for strong words and rebuke. The truth is important and shouldn’t be withheld, but the manner in which it is spoken can be the difference between war and peace. Next time we open our mouths to speak or move our fingers to tweet, an honest evaluation of our own heart and the possible outcomes should be our opening move.
It’s doubtfully a surprise to anyone to say that we live in an age of increasing division and polarization. This fact seems to accentuate the need for each of us to use wisdom in how we speak and engage with one another. It’s likely that each of us can look back at times in our lives when, in hindsight, we realize we should have kept our mouth shut, or perhaps we should have spoken up instead of remaining silent. This will probably be a lifelong struggle for many of us, but God has not left us to our own devices, trying to figure it out on our own. As with all the important aspects of life, He’s given us instruction in His Word, and in this specific case, true and perfect wisdom which we can utilize to tread this thorny path.
When seeking practical instruction about various aspects of life, Proverbs is always a great place to begin. One of the more famous proverbs comes in chapter 26. In verse 4, Solomon says “do not answer a fool according to his folly.” In a beautiful twist, immediately afterward in verse 5 he says, “answer a fool according to his folly.” This is not Solomon contradicting himself, but rather he is showing the wonderful intricacies of life in a fallen world. There are times when wisdom dictates that we speak up, but there are also times when wisdom dictates that we remain silent. The role of godly wisdom is to know the difference between the two, to accurately evaluate the situation one finds themselves in and know which path is the right one. It’s not an easy task, to be sure. Solomon adds weight to the dilemma just two verses later when he says that even the right message delivered in the wrong way is like cutting off your own feet. It’s not only counterproductive, but harmful to oneself.
More could be gleaned from Proverbs, but perhaps the clearest instruction on our speech comes in James 3. It is in this famous chapter that the epistle writer and brother of Christ Himself tells us about the dangers of the tongue. James uses some vivid analogies to show not only the power of the tongue, but the danger of it as well.