August 14, 2007

Don’t Say It

Paid as I am to be a full-time student of the Bible, even I am surprised sometimes by just how relevant such an ancient text can still be in our strange, modern times. To be sure, relevance is in large part a gift of the Holy Spirit, who broods over a passage when we approach it prayerfully, bringing new life to old words. But I also think the Bible is relevant to us today simply because people are people—regardless of the millennia.

This is a large part of what I am enjoying so much about the book of Proverbs as we preach through many of its themes this summer. I like how just a simple sentence of common-sense-instruction can reach across the eons and sort of 'zap' us with fresh insight and timely correction. Take Proverbs 11:12, for instance:

Whoever belittles another lacks sense,
but an intelligent person remains silent.

Once, when Elizabeth and I were dating, I somehow thought it would be funny during dinner with some friends to make fun of the fact that she was a really good student, with much better grades than I. Turns out, it wasn't funny at all. And the really twisted part was that somehow I imagined the whole episode would be endearing. What strange creatures we are.

What I like about Proverbs is just how straight-forward it is: We should be smart enough to know that belittling words will backfire on us and hurt others. Keep silent! If my Jr. High band director had written 11:12, it would advise: Zip that upper lip! He always said that when we were mouthing off.

And yet many daily conversations in homes, workplaces, classrooms, and—God forbid—marriages seem riddled with little belittling words. And why is it that the closer a person is to your life, the more tempting it is to fire off a remark?

Maybe we think it will somehow impress. Maybe we are afraid to show straight-up affection, so instead we make fun of others we love. It's as if we are trying to tell them something, but it's upside down, inside out. Maybe we've been worn down ourselves by other's comments for so long that we'd just assume strike first before someone else strikes us. Or maybe (I'm just speaking for myself on this one) we're just plain old garden variety sinners, and it comes out in our speech! The reasons are as endless as our stories.

But the problem with little belittling comments here and there is that such remarks are like termites. One or two soon begets ten or twenty. Before you know it—maybe it takes months, maybe even years—the foundation for whatever relationship we're in has been completely eaten away. A weighty moment comes along; there's nothing there to hold it up anymore. That's a tough place to be, but I've always been a believer that nothing is impossible with God. Grace abounds in the rebuilding.

If the amount of attention Proverbs in the Old Testament and the book of James in the New give to our tongues is any indication of how important good words are to us Christian folk, then let us all do well to watch our speech, especially with those closest to us. Take an honest accounting of your words, especially at home. When you feel a remark coming out of the quiver of your mind and into the bow that is your tongue, turn aside and aim squarely into silence. Says Proverbs, it's just the smart thing to do.

Rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
- Proverbs 12:18