I sort of wish I had someone there to stop me every time I start saying something unkind or unnecessary or in a scathing tone. Can you imagine the hurt we could avoid if we just kept our mouths in check?
James did. He said, “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider that a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5,6).
Everyone has an opinion. And in the age of instant information, we can look for and find “experts” to prove we are right. But is being right really the goal? It wasn’t for Jesus, and he was right all the time.
Remember when that rich young ruler approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to be saved? You can read the story in Mark 10:17-23. Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments.” The young man’s reply was, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus, more than anyone, knew this was not true. No one apart from Jesus has kept all the commandments perfectly. But Jesus didn’t correct him. In fact, Mark tells us, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (10:21).
Jesus said nothing apart from offering an invitation to follow him. A good friend’s father put it this way: “If given the chance to be right or be kind, choose to be kind.”
That happens when we take James’ advice and are “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). It happens when we remember the goal is not to be right but to love well and to encourage and build one another up.
We absolutely have to stand on the truth of God’s Word. There are times we’ll need to correct and discipline and rebuke and show people what is right based on the Word of God. But I have found I listen far better when those words are delivered in a loving way. A calm but firm voice goes a lot further than a demeaning, derogatory tone. No one cares about the truth when we aren’t speaking the truth in love.
David prayed God would set a guard over his mouth to keep watch over the door of his lips (Psalm 141:3). It’s a prayer I need to pray. If my goal is to prove how right I am, I’ll spew stinging comments often. If the goal is to bring people to Jesus so they know his love and the forgiveness that is theirs in him, then I need to take Jesus’ example to heart and choose the path of love. That doesn’t mean I won’t pray for an opportunity to speak the truth and a change of heart in the other person. It just means I won’t ruin the relationship by being unkind. And I won’t miss the opportunity to have additional conversations because I’ve let my emotions take over.
Sometimes being quiet is the kindest and wisest thing. Sometimes we need to listen so we get to know the heart of the other person and so we know how to pray. Sometimes our words would fall on a heart too hard to hear anything right now anyway.
If you’re quick to speak, as so many of us are, it might be time for a change of course. It might be time for the holy men and women of God to shut our mouths more, to listen well, and to love like Jesus. Doing that just may lead others to seek out our opinion, giving us an open door to speak the truth in love.