Proverbs contains many examples of how we are to weigh our words.
32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverse. Proverbs 10:32 (NKJV)
Implicit in the word ‘acceptable’ is the idea of knowing what to say when. We are likely all familiar with saying something that didn’t come across as intended. I know I tend to use humour a lot and have used it many times to lighten the mood in difficult or tense situations. While generally effective it didn’t always work. At the same time I wasn’t always tuned into Jesus presence when I spoke. Many years ago a pastor shared an experience with me. While he was doing his theological training he was working as an aide on an adult psychiatric unit. One of the patients was out of control and they had to physically lock him in another room. He felt the need for wisdom so prayed an asked the Lord what to do. He got the distinct impression he was to offer the man a cigarette. He said he responded, “But Lord, You don’t smoke.” The impression wouldn’t leave and he offered the man a cigarette. He immediately calmed down and the situation was resolved. In this case what was ‘acceptable’ didn’t make natural sense but was very effective.
Conversely the opposite can happen. I remember going to church one morning. I was struggling with something and feeling discouraged. I have no memory of what it was about as this was over 20 years ago. What I do remember was meeting a fellow I knew just outside the door. He asked how I was doing, I told him. He cheerfully responded, “Aren’t you glad we win in the end!” He didn’t know what was acceptable at that moment. It was clear he wasn’t interested in how I was doing and I don’t recall ever sharing anything meaningful with him after that. As stated, while I don’t remember what I was discouraged about all these years later I clearly remember his non helpful response.
If we take this principle of using words that are acceptable it doesn’t mean always being positive and upbeat. It does mean we have our heart tuned to His and know what to say. As it says elsewhere in Proverbs.
13 He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him. Proverbs 18:13 (NKJV)
We are called to hear hearts and then respond. If we move to the New Testament Paul said we are to speak the truth in love and he outlined what is to accompany our words.
15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– Ephesians 4:15 (NKJV)
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV)
6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Colossians 4:6 (NKJV) We are to speak truth in love, speak words that build others up and carry grace and our words are to be salty, they are to have a purifying and preserving effect. This requires a dependence upon Him so if we are not already doing it let’s learn to lean into His heart as we interact with those around us. Particularly in this difficult season.