When I was born, my Auntie Lin gave me a wall hanging inscribed with my name, its meaning, and a verse plucked from Proverbs 31: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (31:26 KJV). It was the first verse I learned by heart, the calligraphy staring out at me from the puffy calico frame morning, noon, and night. In the simple logic of a child, I thought the plaque described what people named Jenny were supposed to be— that wise and kind speech were the birthright of Jennys down throughout history. I aspired to live it, whispering the words over and over in my mind. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
I was a silly little kid who had no idea that wall hangings did not, in fact, define a person’s destiny. But that didn’t matter to God, who used that plaque to impress the importance of wise, kind speech on my developing brain. My Auntie Lin (who was, ironically, a fiery redhead who had no problem speaking her mind) lost her fierce battle with skin cancer over a decade ago, but I still think of the monumental gift she gave me every time I read Proverbs.
Wise speech is not something we discuss much nowadays. Our culture is addicted to outrage, and oftentimes, we’re more interested in winning arguments than genuinely understanding and working for the mutual benefit of people we disagree with. This is as true in evangelism as it is in politics, as true in the Christian culture wars as it is on cable news networks. If we could only convince people that we are right—if we could only win the argument with our superior proofs and witty polemic—our adversaries would have no choice but to cede the point and join our side.
Only it doesn’t work that way. At least, not usually. I’ve known far more people who have been argued away from the kingdom of God than argued into it, especially when Christians fight dirty.
The same principle applies when speaking with our children, spouses, family, and friends. Winning a round of verbal darts may give us a sense of superiority and control, but make no mistake: harsh, thoughtless speech is incredibly destructive, even when it bullies people into giving us our way. James 3:5b–6 says “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Those are strong words, but many could testify that foolish words have sent parts of their lives up in flames.
Taming the tongue may be difficult, especially for those of us who like to win at all costs. But wise speech is a discipline all followers of Christ are called to. It is something we can practice until we have learned how to open our mouths with wisdom and the law of kindness is imprinted on our tongues.
Excerpted from Don’t Hide your Light Under a Laundry Basket:150 Bright Ideas for Wannabe World Changers by Jenny Rae Armstrong. Used with permission.
Armstrong, Jenny Rae. “Tame your Tongue.” In Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Laundry Basket: 150 Bright Ideas for Wannabe World Changers, 37-38. Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2016.