Ever since I can remember, I’ve been outspoken. I find it very difficult to hold back my opinions, especially when there is a situation where something seems unfair, people are mocking or making fun of others, or someone has a certain perspective on things that doesn’t jive with how I see it. When I was younger, there were many times that I was too bold or just plain tactless, even to the point of being offensive. I was actually proud of my tendency to “tell it like it is” and not be “fake.” One of my youth pastors would even occasionally tease me by saying, “Tell us how you really feel, Krista,” in a playfully sarcastic way… because no one ever had to try to figure out how I really felt. I made it very obvious!
With age and maturity, in some ways I’ve also grown in wisdom. Typically, I think things through a lot more than I used to, attempting to gauge how my opinions might be perceived by people who view a situation differently than I do. I still don’t have much of a filter between my brain and mouth sometimes, but I don’t think it results in as much offense as it used to, because my thought process is changing from “I’m right and I don’t care who doesn’t like it” to “different people have different experiences, and I should be open to understanding where they’re coming from.” I’m trying to become more compassionate and empathetic, and I’m more concerned about the image and reputation I am creating for myself- especially because, as a Christian, I represent Christ.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that several verses addressing this issue have come up recently during my daily Bible reading. While I do believe that we should be able to hold respectful discussions, I feel the urge to express my thoughts about certain topics when it’s probably not always appropriate. Even when I try to carefully word my opinions so I don’t offend people, I don’t often consider if it’s the right time or setting for a particular conversation. I don’t usually think about the possibility that maybe it’s better to stay silent, or try to have a discussion either in person or through private messaging instead of a public social media thread.
Here are the scriptures I’ve come across, along with my thoughts about them.
Proverbs 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Ouch! How often do we only care about what we have to say, instead of truly trying to understand someone else’s experience?
Proverbs 26:4-5 “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” These verses seem to say opposite things. This is meant to make us think about what the best response is depending on the specific situation. Many times, it’s better not to participate in conversations when someone is acting foolish, because you probably won’t get anywhere and might end up looking foolish yourself. But other times, it may be wise to respond with a correction so that people don’t assume that there could be no other options except for what the foolish person is saying.
Proverbs 26:12 “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” This refers to someone who is “stubbornly unteachable,” as my ESV study notes say. We should be careful that we aren’t so convinced of our own opinions, that we refuse to listen to any other ideas!
Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the impression that I’ve been a lot more foolish than I may have previously thought.
Ecclesiastes 7:16 “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” At first this verse didn’t make sense to me, but the ESV study notes offer a helpful interpretation. In this case, the term “righteous” refers not to being morally correct, but “right in one’s cause.” The advice here is to not be obsessed with always being right in an argument. People who insist on always winning arguments or having the last word end up alienating everyone around them.
James 1:19-20 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Slow to speak… not usually my specialty. Slow to anger… most of us have a lot of work to do there too.
James 3:6,8-9 “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the likeness of God.” James doesn’t mince words, does he? This is a sobering reminder of how powerful our words can be. We need to rely on wisdom from the Holy Spirit to not use our words for evil.
These verses were convicting for me, and maybe they are for you too. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This isn’t directly talking about our speech, of course, but what we set our minds on has an impact on what we say and do. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (NASB).
What is filling your heart and mind? Is it a desire to show love and kindness to others through your words (or silence)? Or is your greatest concern letting everyone know how you really feel, no matter whose feelings you hurt in the process? It requires a lot of self control to tame our tongues! Fortunately for us, we can take comfort in the fact that God’s grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).