Faith Break: Speaking Out
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (NIV)
Anyone who has ever had to give an important speech or had to write an important article knows the frantic search for the right voice. While we all speak and write every day in our own unique voices, we only become aware of what that voice means when we are in a position where our words are being judged and weighed by others.
For those who spend their Sundays at the pulpit or for those whose mission it is not just to sell a product but to defend and spread the Word of God, this is a particularly strong concern. Speaking the Word is an act of the greatest consequence. Taking the wrong tone can take someone down the wrong path and away from faith, while the right tone can lead a fleeing sheep back to the fold. In such moments, we wish to speak with “the tongue of the wise” and not “the mouth of the fool,” but how can we know the difference?
In the Bible, few people hear the voice of God directly. The prophets all speak with His voice, spreading His message. So rare and powerful is this gift, many of the books of the bible bear the names of those who have heard Him. We know these people to be honest and righteous now, but from the perspective of a man or woman of Jerusalem, the prophet is only one of many claiming to have the answers. It is a daunting task to take the divine truth and set it down in words that average people can understand. After all, most of us feel God and know God but don’t receive His Word directly in the way the prophets did.
However, it is clear that God wants us to be careful with our words at every moment in our lives, not just in a performance. Not only is “a word fitly spoken…like apples of gold/In settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV), but crass words act against our purposes. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). This is a sentiment Our Lord understood well when He said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Matthew 15:11).
So we must be careful with our words. But we aren’t left with a clear idea on how to do that. Now we can look to Ecclesiastes. In chapter five, Solomon tells us, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (5:1). The wisest king in history would know something about that. And his advice is the same here as in Proverbs (5:2):
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.
We should speak few words, always listening before we speak. And who should we listen to except God? We must hear his directions in everything around us. Though some of us stand at the pulpit and some of us preach to the crowd, we must remember that speech was designed for conversation, that we have to listen before we can respond. We must listen and not be impatient to hear what God wants us to say and what voice He has in mind for us. Or, as James put it, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
It is from the wisdom of this approach that a voice can be found. If we are listening for God’s words, as well as the needs of our congregations or neighbors, our own words will begin to meld with God’s voice. Just like a child learns to speak by imitating a parent, so too will our voice suit God and our flock if we are willing to listen first and then speak gently. If we commit to this path, there will be no trouble in finding the right voice. The voice will come of its own, and the service to the Lord will be certain.