“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Seems like good advice at first. We certainly don’t want to open our big mouths and say something we’ll later regret.
In the book War on Words, Paul David Tripp suggests, “Listen to the talk that goes on in your home. How much of it is impatient or unkind? How often are words spoken out of selfishness and personal desire? How easily do outbursts of anger occur?”
Most of us would have to admit we have a lot of room for improvement. It’s true we need to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31). That’s a challenge in itself.
But for the Christian, the standard goes even higher. When frustrated or angry, we don’t have the option of just biting our lip and saying nothing.
Paul also gives a positive command regarding our speech in Ephesians 4. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Then down a little further, he says our talk is to be “only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (v. 29).
In communication, step one is to “put off” words that bring harm and destruction. Step two is to “put on” words of edification in their place. Unless you’ve done both, you have not completed the cycle of sanctification. It would be like hitting a baseball, running to second base, then just walking back to the dugout instead of continuing on to home plate.
Being slow to speak is a sign of wisdom (James 1:19). But how can you then “put on” words that will build others up? Here are five ways you can start today…
- Learn to say “thanks” for little acts of service or kindness. There’s always something we can be thankful for.
- Instead of being nit picky, find ways to commend a person’s character, their beauty, their gifts, and a job well done.
- Ask questions with a sincere desire to know others better and to serve them.
- Be willing to ask for help or advice. It’s one of the best ways we can say, “You are important. Your opinion matters to me.”
- Look for ways to talk about Scripture – what you’ve been learning, what you’ve been reading, and what issues you’d like to understand better.
In light of Ephesians 4, I propose a new motto. “If you don’t have something nice to say, keep thinking until you have something nice to say. Then say it!”
Photo credit: Rebecca Barray