James gives us some great advice to help improve the quality of all of our relationships. He highlights three essential keys to improving relationships: being a good listener, thinking before speaking and controlling your anger. Today we will spend some time looking at ‘thinking before speaking’.
James 1:19-20. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
After telling us to be “quick to listen”, James tells us to be “slow to speak”. In other words, we need to think (engage our brain!) before opening our mouth! Our mouth tends to get us into a lot of trouble, if we’re not careful.
Observations about ‘Words’:
Let’s make a few important observations about the words that we speak.
- Words have great power (Prov.18:20-21. Ecc. 10:12. Lk.4:22)! The things we say have big consequences! We, in so many ways, are the product of words. The words others have spoken over us and the words we speak to ourselves and about ourselves. Words, although invisible, are mighty! They induce emotion – great fear, great thrill, sadness, longing, joy – words touch the heart. Because of the potential damage of our words, there are many exhortations in the Bible to be ‘slow to speak’ and not to be ‘hasty’ with our words (Prov.29:20. Ecc.5:3).
- Controlling the tongue is difficult (Jam.3:2-8). As we have seen - our mouth gets us into trouble more than any other thing. James tells us ‘taming our tongue’ it is very difficult! How easily we say things and then wish we hadn’t. Once those words have been spoken they are ‘out there’ and their affect is difficult to undo.
- Words influence the quality of our life. You will reap a harvest from the words you sow, just as a farmer receives crops from what he plants. This is the law of the harvest - you will reap what you sow. If you can control your tongue, you set the direction of your life and you can keep your whole body in check. Your tongue turns or directs your whole life, just like a small bit in the mouth of a horse and a small rudder on a large ship. Our words create an ‘atmosphere’ around us – in our world and our relationships. Whether it is positive or negative is determined by the choice of the words that we speak.
- Controlled speech is a sign of maturity. The ability to control the tongue is one of the clearest marks of maturity and wisdom (Prov.13:3; 10:19). In fact, a perfect person is one who is never at fault in what they say. As we grow older and more mature, as we grow in Christ, an indicator should be a greater control on the words that we speak.
Using Our Words for Good
Each one of us is responsible for the words that we speak. We can’t control what happens to you but we do have control over how we choose to respond or react. No one makes us say anything! Between an ‘event’ and our ‘response’ there is always a moment of choice. We can tend to be reactionary people. The external environment, people and circumstances tend to determine what happens in our life. We are “reactive” rather than “proactive”. We tend to defend, blame and retaliate, which just makes things worse. That’s why it’s so important that we hit the ‘pause’ button and think before speaking.
Here are some keys in ensuring that our tongue is used for good:
- Guard your heart. We need help and an inner change of heart. We need the Holy Spirit to put God’s nature within us, filled with goodness and love. It is a heart issue because the mouth speaks what’s inside (Mt.12:33-37). What are you ‘storing up’ within you? Eventually it will come out. Renew your mind. Think about good things (Phil.4:8). We must “guard our heart” – our inner life (thoughts, feelings and decisions). Out of our heart flow all the issues of life (Prov.4:23). Like a computer, we will output what has been input over time.
- Choose to speak words of life. We can make a choice to speak positive things (Eph.4:29-31). How we use our mouth and what words we speak are our choice. We must put off our old way of living and put on a new way of living. We have a responsibility to live as Godly people. This means intentionally stopping using our words in a way that damages people and intentionally choosing to speak words of life that build up and benefit others.
- Be open and honest. Communication is the key to understanding and understanding is the key to intimacy. Be open and honest with other people. Don’t wear masks or hide. Be real and tell people how you really think and feel. Openness leads to great intimacy. You can’t build a close relationship with someone who isn’t sincere and transparent. Obviously, we need to think about the level and depth of relationship we have with people and apply the appropriate degree of openness. The more trust we have developed in a relationships, the more we will feel ‘safe’ to be open. Make a choice to go a little deeper in your relationships.
- Be lovingly assertive, when appropriate. Assertiveness is all about being able to assert your rights. Errors in this area can lead to a lot of relational problems. Sometimes as Christians, we have adopted a belief that says that it’s not right to be assertive, and that we should always surrender our rights and even be willing to be wronged in the name of love. The key issue is how we define ‘assertiveness’. The truth is that you can be both loving and assertive. Of course, Christian love may involve choosing to sacrifice our rights when appropriate ... There is a difference between ‘under-assertive’ and ‘over-assertive’. Under-assertive people tendencies: they can’t set limits, can’t say “no” (without feeling guilty), are easily manipulated by stronger people, are unable to express feelings of anger constructively, avoid conflict situations and shirk responsibilities, are excessively apologetic, can’t send clear and unambiguous messages, experience anxiety and guilt when they do not assert themselves and tend to fantasize after conversations (replaying the situation over and over). Of course, the other extreme is ‘over-assertiveness’. Tendencies are: a lack of tact and sensitivity, hurting other people, steam-rolling their ideas and opinions, and a tendency to be autocratic (‘we’ll do it my way’) ... There is a difference between being ‘assertive’ and ‘aggressive’: If you have anger you cannot be appropriately assertive. Many people wait until they are angry before they speak their mind. That is too late! When anger is involved, assertiveness is no longer a healing activity. When you do it right there should usually not be offence.
- Learn to speak the ‘truth in love’ (Eph.3:15). We can confront without hurting. We must not hang on to our anger and hurt. We need to take responsibility for our feelings. Share your feelings and thoughts honestly and openly. Always seek to maintain the relationships. Remember the goals of loving confrontation should always be a better understanding, a positive change and a growing relationship. Have the courage and the consideration to learn to confront lovingly.