How can we use God’s gift of language in a redemptive way? Given everything happening, it seems there is no civil or respectful discourse. Do we need to speak softly and carry a big stick, because truthful voices are being silenced?
Years ago, I saw a movie in which a priest went to the roof of the church, ripped open a feather pillow, and let the wind blow the feathers in every possible direction. “That,” he said, “is gossip.” I know your question isn’t about gossip specifically, but this story illustrates the unexpected power of our words.
In an age of social media, we see little discretion used, and sometimes it is hard to practice it ourselves. In fact, the temptation to talk carelessly or casually abounds in this technological age. Few people practice restraint or that great virtue of prudence. We’ve entered a new era of name-calling and disrespect, and we’ve adopted a list of excuses for our verbal barbs. The combination of disrespect and viral posts has drained discourse and disagreement of their nobility and has reduced our conversations to the lowest common denominator. For Christ-followers, restraint based on biblical principle is appropriate, a restraint that never resorts to the cowardice of silence when words are necessary, but helps choose our words carefully and with conviction. Christ spoke loudly against wrongdoing when He cleared the temple and had stern words for the money changers (Matt. 21:12–17). At other times He remained silent or almost silent, such as when He was brought before Pilate (Matt. 27:14) or when asked to publicly condemn the woman caught in adultery (John 8). He saved His words of condemnation for hypocritical religious leaders who were making the grace of God unattainable and leading people astray or for those with power who treated others with disdain or condescension. His responses were always right and wise whether He spoke up or said nothing. As humans, we won’t always be right or wise, but we can look to Christ’s example of grace and truth, of wisdom and integrity when we speak or when we are silent.