In our world there is a lot of improper talk. Some of it is profanity and some of it, while not profane, is inappropriate. You have probably encountered it, perhaps you have heard it at work or in the mall. Maybe you have even been on the receiving end of it on occasion.
If someone is in the habit of saying inappropriate things on a regular basis we might say that this person has “no filter.” What that means is that it does not matter where they are, or who they are with, they say whatever they want without holding back. Stated simply, they lack self-control. This kind of behavior is not proper. This is especially true for Christians. Inappropriate speech is not to mark the life of a believer.
When I was growing up it was common to hear grownups, especially parents, say to a child “watch your mouth.” This was their way of telling the child that what the child was saying was not acceptable. The directive to “watch your mouth” is not something that only parents or adults say. God has basically given us the same message though He has used different words.
The Old Testament book of Proverbs has many verses that address the use of the tongue and the things that people say. One sobering verse tells us that there is a direct connection between sin and the use of many words (Prov. 10:19). The more one speaks the greater the possibility of sin. That alone should cause us to exercise caution when we speak. Sins of speech include: lying, swearing, slandering, gossiping, and bullying. None of these types of speech are appropriate for a believer. Another verse tells us that the words we speak can either bring life or death (Prov. 18:21). That is, the things we say or the way in which we say them, can either help us or hurt us. If we are wise in our speaking we can guard our own lives (Prov. 13:3), spare ourselves calamity (Prov. 21:23) and help avoid volatile situations (Prov. 15:1a).
On the negative side, if we are not wise in the use of our words we can wound others (Prov. 12:18a), and stir up trouble (Prov. 15:1b). Proverbs 12:14 and 13:2 indicate that if we conduct ourselves honorably and speak properly our lives will be blessed with good things. As believers in Jesus we should be guarding our mouths and trying to speak in ways that are helpful not just for our own benefit but also for the benefit of others. For example, we can strengthen others and help cheer them up (Prov. 10:21; 12:25).
The New Testament also supplies us with instructions about the use of our tongues. Before getting into specific instructions it is worth noting that Scripture tells us that what comes out of our mouths reflects what is in our hearts, Jesus Himself made this point (Luke 6:45). A person may look very attractive on the outside but what they say gives you a clearer picture of what kind of individual they really are.
James, in his letter, tells us that we should not be quick to speak (Jas. 1:19). He also tells us that as human beings we make many verbal mistakes (Jas. 3:2) and that our tongues are a fire that can cause destruction (Jas. 3:6).
The apostle Paul tells believers not to let “any unwholesome speech come out of your mouths” (Eph. 4:29 NIV). In Ephesians 5:4 he mentions three kinds of speech that are inappropriate: “obscenity, foolish talk” and “coarse joking” (NIV). In addition to telling us what should not be in our speech he also tells us what it should include, it should be “full of grace” (Col. 4:6 NIV) in order to help meet the needs of others (Eph. 4:29).
So how can we live up to the scriptural teachings regarding the words that come out of our mouths? Is it a matter of sheer willpower? I don’t think so. Certainly the exercise of our will is involved. We need to decide that we will do our best to control the words that we say. But I think that more is involved if we are going to be successful. One thing we can do is pray, David asked the Lord to put a guard over his mouth (Ps. 141:3). In an earlier psalm he prayed another prayer that has application to our speaking he wrote, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight” (Ps. 19:14 NIV). These are surely prayers that the Lord will answer because they express the desire that we do not offend Him by the things that we say. In keeping with the theme of divine help we should realize that the Holy Spirit wants us to succeed in this area.
If we allow the Spirit to create His fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23) this will go a long way in keeping us from sinning with our mouths. By the grace of God may we honor Him by the things that we say. May our speech be clean and edifying (Eph. 4:29). This is God’s will for us.
Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV”, “New International Version”, “Biblica”, “International Bible Society” and the Biblica Logo are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc. Used with permission.
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.