We live in an increasingly self-focused, rash, impulsive society. The general rule for speech has become one of, "I'll say what I want to say and let the chips fall where they may."
I hear other folks say that they don't care who they offend. They are going to speak their minds.
As in all things, we should ask how Jesus Christ would have us talk. I think we all agree that speech is powerful. What does Jesus think about it? James and Paul help us in this:
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." James 1:19-20
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your 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
We can see that James is writing with the specific context of anger in mind. However, there does seem to be a general principle in place. We ought to be quick to hear, but slow to speak. We can see the obvious contrast between the two. Unfortunately, in much of society today we see the opposite taking place. We've all been guilty of this. How often have we not listened, spoken quickly, hurt someone else, and then regretted it later?
I realize that we also now live in a hyper-sensitive society with all sorts of politically correct things that I can't even keep track of anymore. Because of this, there are people who get offended over all sorts of unimportant little things. We must keep this in mind as we think through these things.
Paul provides us with a challenge in Ephesians 4:29. All our speech is to be for the building up. Our goal should be the good of others whenever words come out of our mouths. Wow. I can't say I've lived up to that one too consistently.
How can we put all this together?
Let us all be quick to listen. May we try to understand both what people are saying and why they are saying it.
Let us be slow to speak. We should ask ourselves about the content of what we are about to say and how we are saying it. Are we speaking the truth in love? Have we thought through the implications of what is coming out our mouths? Is our goal the edification of our hearers?
When we speak and act impulsively, usually fueled by uncontrolled passions, the results are predictable. We may initially feel good because we've "vented" or "gotten something off our chests." Soon, however, we will be in the middle of another big mess because others have been hurt by what we've said. Speech driven by selfish emotions leads to disaster.
Instead, we must strive to always speak with the mind of Christ. If we are slow to speak, we will have time to think through what we are about to say. I'm not referring to paralysis by analysis. Rather, I'm suggesting using a sort of mental filter to ask, "Will this benefit the hearer?"
Let us listen first and in depth. Let us only then speak. Above, all let's keep others first.