By Joe Rutherford
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence. The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin. The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the hearts of fools are not upright.
Proverbs 15:1-7 (New International Version)
David C. Egner, a teacher with the evangelical RBC ministries, wrote this week about the liabilities of uncontrolled speech, a nonpartisan and appropriate topic in a political season that has heard excesses and shaded meanings pouring from candidates in the emerging 2012 presidential race and in the statewide Mississippi election this year.
Egner, who travels frequently, related a story of a trip to Minsk, Belarus, and the literally painful lessons he learned:
“I was walking in a subway in Minsk, Belarus, with my friend Yuliya and her daughter Anastasia when I suddenly fell face first onto the dirty concrete floor. I don’t remember the fall, but I do remember suddenly having a mouth filled with sand, gravel, and grit. Ugh! I couldn’t get that stuff out of my mouth quickly enough!
“I didn’t enjoy what went into my mouth on that embarrassing occasion. But Scripture teaches that it’s more important to guard what comes out of our mouths. When the writer of Proverbs 15 said that ‘the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness’ (v.2), the word translated pours forth literally means ‘explodes out.’ Rash accusations, angry words, and verbal abuse can do immeasurable and lifelong harm. The apostle Paul spoke bluntly about this: ‘Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth’ (Eph. 4:29) – no dirty talk. He also said to ‘[put] away lying’ and to “speak truth” (v.25) – no lies. And later, ‘Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you’ (v.31) – no character assassination. What comes out of our mouths should be wholesome and uplifting.”
Egner wasn’t talking just about profanity – better known as “cussing” – but any kind of speech that damages others and consequently damages our own personal emotional and spiritual health.
The Judeo-Christian faith stream isn’t alone in cautioning against intemperate words.
The Eight Fold Path of Buddhism offers this strongly parallel understanding of speech (from http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html#Right_Speech):
“Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.”
Egner sums up, based on the cautions from the Bible:
“We guard carefully what goes into our mouths – and rightly so. To honor God, let’s also keep tight control on the words that come out of our mouths.”
Our thoughts, he said, may become our words at any time.