The writer of the Book of James sums up biblical teaching on the tongue with these words, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20 NASB). It is important to notice two things in these verses. First, our speech and our anger are closely linked. Second, we need to listen more and talk less.
The writer’s admonition is better understood, when we realize the power of our words. They have the power to heal or to hurt. They have the power to calm or to crush. They can be used to build up or to tear down. It is important for us to choose them carefully. Here are a few suggestions on speaking positively. Remember to think before you speak. We may mean well, but if our words are thoughtless, they can cause great harm. While an occasional thoughtless comment may go unnoticed, a pattern of continuous thoughtless words in our homes, our workplaces, and in all of our relationships can cause immeasurable harm. Careless speech can poison our living environment.
Do not use the truth as a weapon, but speak the truth in love. The truth is not always what someone wants to hear. When the need to admonish arises, it is important to look for the proper time to speak and to speak in a proper tone. If anger is involved give the initial outburst time to abate and look for a private moment to address the issue. Keep in mind the tone of your conversation is as important as the substance. If your tone is judgmental, condescending, or arrogant, you can be assured that what you say will not be well received. If you use a tone that says you really care and your motive is to help, you increase the possibility of being heard. Whenever possible listen to what those around you have to say. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. By listening, we can be prepared to speak wisely when the time comes. We would do well to learn a lesson from the wise old owl in the poem below.
A wise old owl Sat in an oak
The more he saw The less he spoke
The less he spoke The more he heard
Let us try to be more Like that old bird.
If each one of us learned to be more cautious with our words, we might discover we can accomplish more from listening carefully than from speaking unwisely. The result would be a more pleasant environment in our homes, community, church, workplace and every other place people congregate together.