Ephesians 4:29 says “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.” I talk with our students every year about the power of words, and the importance of controlling their tongues. Positive words can encourage and lift up, while negative words can cause hurt and drag people down. Once spoken, they can never be taken back, so I encourage students to make a habit of considering the following questions before speaking:
1. Is it true?
Do you know first-hand that what you are saying is true? This question goes deeper than simple honesty. If you are passing on information that you heard from somebody who heard it from somebody, you are participating in gossip. Unless you were present when it happened or heard it yourself, you cannot say with certainty that you know it to be true.
2. Is it positive?
There are many things that are true, but may not be positive. For example, it may be true that I have big ears, but there is no constructive reason for you to remind me of that in a conversation.
3. Is it necessary?
Many of us have to wrestle with the concept that we don’t need to share every thought that pops into our heads. It may be true that Jimmy likes vanilla, and that is a fact that could be considered positive, but for him to share that in the middle of a math lesson on the Pythagorean Theorem is not necessary, or appropriate. A tendency to interject unnecessarily into conversations indicates a lack of concern for what others are saying and a self-centered attitude.
The bottom line is that the answer to all three questions needs to be “yes”, or we need to keep our mouths closed! James 1:19 tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak, and asking ourselves these questions can help us put that into practice.