“O be careful little mouth what you say, O be careful little mouth what you say,
For the Father up above is looking down in love, So be careful little mouth what you say.”
Those lyrics from children’s Bible classes, pew-packers, or kid-sing are some we need to take to heart as adults. Paul writes, “Let your words always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should answer each person.” (Col 4:6 – LSB).
Our words matter.
Our words matter. What we say matters. Yes, we should avoid opprobrious language (Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth,” (Eph 4:29a). Yes, we should not lie or speak maliciously, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. . .. Let all bitterness and anger and wrath and shouting and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Eph 4:25, 31). But there is more to considering our words or watching our mouth and tongue. We need to exercise what Proverbs calls prudence and discernment. Prudence is to practice self-discipline or control by using good judgment or reason. Discernment is to understand or see an obscure idea of issue so that one can answer or act appropriately.
We all find ourselves in various situations where we feel obligated to speak. We are with people who are celebrating or dealing with disappointment. We might find ourselves with a friend who is grieving. Perhaps we are at the bedside of a someone fighting a physical or emotional ailment. Maybe a friend is expecting a child or have news that is exciting to them. We are there and we feel we should respond; we want to say something. These are the moments to prudently discern what to say.
Maybe you, like me, have not always had a prudent response. Your response revealed more about you that it addressed the other person.
- Jim tells you about a job opportunity in a certain county, city, or state. You have a prejudice about that area so you chuckle and maybe even say, “that would be a tough place to live.” Your words crush their joy.
- Sister Sue is talking about her upcoming surgery, one they have concerns about and you flippantly reply, “Oh, may aunt had that and it was nothing.” You just told your sister-in-Christ that you do not care about their fears.
- Fred just received a diagnosis of a medical issue, and you say, “You think that is bad, I have dealt with such and such.” Your words negated their experience.
- Hazel tells you about an event they enjoyed, and you chime in with a story to top theirs. You are telling them that they are no important or their experience is invalid.
When Job went through his trials, his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) came to be with him. They were great for a week as they silently sat there, then they opened their mouths. Job eventually told them, “. . . Troublesome comforters are you all.” (Job 16:2b).
Two things I need to learn and remember to do:
- Listen. Pay attention to what someone else is saying and what they are going through. Try to listen for any need they are expressing. That need could simply be an ear to hear them.
- Reply (if needed) with gracious kindness. Treat them in the manner I would want to be treated if I were in their situation. (cf. Matt 7:12).
Remember Rom 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,”