One of my goals for this year is to read Proverbs each month (made handy by the fact that there are 31 chapters). As with most wisdom literature, it is a little scattered; each chapter contains several different principles and challenges to digest. In the same chapter, we find both a command not to eat so much honey as to yak, and a dismal description of the pains of living with a nagging wife (25).
One of the most prevalent themes within Proverbs is that of right speech. Again and again, gossip is condemned, as are false witness and pointless flattery. The things that have challenged me most, however, have to do with words of encouragement, loving admonition, and apt replies. These are described as gold and silver, as sweet to the taste and refreshing to the soul. It's beautiful, really.
As I think about how we, as Christians, approach our speech, I see that we often define godly speech by what we don't say. We don't cuss, we avoid gossip and hurtful sarcasm, we try not to make too many crude jokes. These are all very important, each of them listed in Scripture as things to be avoided. Still, Proverbs has been challenging me on a new level. Perhaps we should not stop at what it is we shouldn't be saying, but be asking all the more how it is we should be using our words. Is it enough that our speech is clean, even if it is still a little fruitless and less than useful?
Ephesians 4:29 says this:
"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."
My speech isn't usually all that unwholesome (though I make no claims to be angelic). But does it really benefit those who listen? Do I speak only what is helpful for building others up? These are important questions for the follower of Christ, and to take them seriously would involve much thought and intentionality. The Bible is pretty clear that the tongue is a powerful instrument, whether used for good or evil. We all know that the spoken word has the power to encourage and to destroy, to open eyes and to blind them, to guide and to lead astray. What an amazing witness we would become if we went beyond avoiding that which brings Christ disgrace, and strove to purposely foster that which brings him the greatest glory--learning to speak words of life. I want to be one who speaks a kind word to a hurting heart, a loving rebuke to a wandering friend, an apt reply to one seeking wisdom. I want to be one whose words are purposeful and rich with truth.
Are your words life-giving, or just acceptably clean? May it be that our speech is a noticeable part of our discipleship, and our conversation always full of the love of Christ.