It is very human to speak before we think. Thousands of years ago the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
One of the reasons I don’t like to use Twitter is because I have an unusual sense of humor. I am afraid I will tweet something that sounds really funny, with disastrous consequences.
People often speak of “filters” when it comes to speech. Filters are the thought processes we go through as we decide what we should or should not share. Long before this use of the word “filters” became popular, people in my family talked about those who had “diarrhea of the mouth.”
Yikes! Should I have said that? Well, hopefully, you get the idea.
Today I was working my way through some Facebook posts and found a couple of complaints from people who felt they had been wronged by others. Both posts provided just enough detail to evoke sympathy from friends, but not quite enough to reveal the whole situation.
This morning’s news was filled with commentary on thoughtless statements from public figures. Some of the statements were recent and some were old. It doesn’t matter. Once our words are recorded in a sound bite or social media platform they begin to define us, especially if we have celebrity status.
As a public speaker, I feel sorry for those who misspeak. People truly do not mean everything they say. But whether we mean what we say or not, if our words are hurtful toward others or misrepresent the truth in some way, they can still cause great damage.
Maybe this is why the Bible is full of passages commanding us to guard our tongues, as well as our hearts where evil thoughts and words are born. There isn’t room here to list every passage, but I will share some biblical points on the subject:
Unfiltered words can be dangerous. James said the tongue is like a wild animal or a fire. When we don’t control it, it has the power to destroy. James writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 2:8).
Unfiltered words can be eternally fatal. Jesus once said anyone who calls his brother a “fool” (a worthless person), is in danger of “the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:23). That’s right. Assassinating someone’s identity is as serious as physical murder. Some might see this as an exaggeration, intended to grab our attention. Maybe so, but I wouldn’t be too sure.
Unfiltered words can indicate a deeper problem. Once, Judas criticized a woman by the name of Mary for anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. He thought the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But John tells us Judas’ complaint had nothing to do with the poor. He was a thief, and he was overwhelmed with jealousy when he thought of how he might have spent the money on himself (John 12:6). While our unfiltered words might gain a little sympathy from others, most people see through us and realize we are trying to feed a dangerous creature within.
Unfiltered words can cost us our credibility. Followers of Jesus are always on stage. We may not think this is fair, but it goes with the territory. When we put on Jesus, we agree to represent or “profess” Him in our lives. This is why the Apostle Paul reminded us to let our conversation be “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). We might get a few sympathetic comments from others when we vent publicly, but at the same time we undermine our witness and reinforce non-believers’ resistance to the Lord.
Unfiltered words can send a soul to hell. I saved this one for last because it is pretty strong. This isn’t a reference to Jesus’ warning against calling a brother a “fool”. I am thinking our words can send someone else to hell. I am not saying people aren’t ultimately responsible for their own souls. On the other hand, we must never forget the weight of our words, realizing they have the power to turn someone away from the Lord. This is why Paul told us to let our conversation be “full of grace.” He was concerned about how believers are perceived by non-believers, or “outsiders” (Colossians 4:5).
Are words really this big of a deal?
It is possible I have painted too bleak a picture. But words have one distinction I can’t get around: once I use them, I can’t take them back.
And that’s a deal no one has the power to break.