Frank told about seeing his friend Fred one day. Frank said, “Fred had a bewildered look on his face, so I asked him if he had a problem. He looked at me and said, ‘I misplaced my dictionary, and now I’m at a loss for words.’ ” Credit Fred for wanting to think before he spoke or wrote. Most of us would do well to speak less. The Bible admonishes “let every man (the Greek word includes every man and woman) be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). We live in a loose-lipped world where people talk, text, tweet, and post on social media platforms. We are inundated with words. But not all words are equal or helpful. Many of them would be better left unsaid. The Greek word translated “slow” in James 1:19 means “slow, as in taking time to deliberate, unhurried, while still moving forward after considering all the facts” (HELPS WORD-studies). Edmund Muskie, a long time U. S. senator from the state of Maine, once said, “In Maine we have a saying that there’s no point in speaking unless you can improve on the silence.” There’s not much silence left in America. The silence has been greatly diminished. America is awash with loud mouths that do nothing to improve the silence and very, very often horribly harm the silence. Out of people’s mouths come vile, vulgar, vain, and violent words. From cursing and swearing to complaining and grumbling to gossip and slander, there is sound pollution on every hand. On the street, online, on TV, in the music, in the movies, in the halls at school, and on occasion even in the church building and, God forbid, even in some pulpits, you may hear different kinds of trash talk and vile and inappropriate words. With the tongue people lie, flatter, blaspheme, backbite, tale-bare and dish the dirt. There is idle chatter, hate speech, harsh attacks, and cutting remarks. People use words to incite fear, stir up anger, spread half-truths and misinformation, discourage, and demoralize. If not careful our words can help to spread error, assassinate other people’s character, and ruin reputations. As part of his description of a largely godless society, the apostle Paul said in Roman 3:13-14 (quoting a string of psalms): “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” It’s not just smokestacks that foul the air and dirty up the environment. Filthy mouths do, too.
Jesus warns us Matthew 12:36-37 we all ought to exercise great care that the words we choose to say will improve the silence – “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Jesus is not telling us to never speak up or out, nor was James in the passage noted above. Rather, they both call us to exercise our brains before we just start flapping our lips – or our pens or keyboards. The word Jesus uses for “idle” is a word that means lazy, thoughtless, careless, unprofitable, or injurious. These words about words and how we use them ought to jar us and make us think. Our words will show up at Judgment Day according to Jesus, and they will either condemn or justify us when we appear in God’s courtroom. American actor James Van Der Beek said, “It’s a free country and I can keep my mouth shut whenever I want.” That’s a freedom more of us ought to exercise. A Spanish proverb says, “If your mouth is shut, the flies won’t get in.” Or out, we might add. Does what you say improve on the silence?