If you can’t say somethin’ nice . . .

On a recent talk show, someone asked about a situation in the news that involved one person publicly defaming another. The response to the question was interesting: “What ever happened to just being able to say you don’t like someone? Why do we have to give all of these reasons that end up slandering the other individual in the process?” Perhaps the better question is, “What ever happened to controlling your tongue?”

There seems to be a major problem today: people say what they think before thinking. James 3 is very clear about the danger of the tongue. James says that we all stumble but we especially stumble when it comes to the tongue (v. 2). While the tongue is small, it is extremely powerful (vv. 3–5). The greatest danger is that we use this same small part of our body to praise God and curse others (vv. 9–10). The point of James 3 is simple: carefully consider each word you speak. It seems few have heeded James’ advice. 

Typically the sins of the tongue are categorized into the area of what is said negatively. Sins such as profanity, immoral humor, lying, and gossip are highlighted. But is that the only way the tongue is hard to control? Is it enough to avoid those four most recognized tongue-problems? Or is there more? 

There is more. The proverb says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25.11). Paul said our words should be “good for building up… that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4.29). In other words, what is said is just as important as what is not said! 

Here is where the problem lies in regards to speech today: little regard is given to the filtration process that should be used before speaking. Each person should ask themselves specific questions that will filter their speech before they speak. Questions such as… 

How does this impact others? 

How does this change my reputation?

How does this reflect my relationship with God? 

Do I need to even say something? 

That final question is sometimes the most important of all. Several years ago a friend shared an important lesson he had learned. He said, “I learned that I didn’t have to have an answer or explanation for every question I was asked. I am allowed to say nothing.” What a powerful concept! You are not required to answer with an explanation. 

Obviously that “nothing” takes on the form of “I don’t know!” No doubt pride keeps many from answering with “I don’t know.” But sometimes that is the best answer… nothing. 

Someone asks what you think on a topic that you aren’t quite sure about. How do you answer? “I don’t know.” Your child asks you about something too difficult for them to understand. How do you answer? “We’ll talk about that when you’re older.” Those are times where “nothing” is often better than anything. 

Perhaps all would do well to remember the sage advice from Thumper in the movie Bambi:  “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, say nothin’ at all!”