No one really remembers much about fifth grade by the time college comes around. Elementary school isn’t really the major topic of discussion. However, today I recalled a certain day of my elementary school days.
There was a substitute teacher in my classroom that day. She was a tall woman with giant glasses, which made her appear really smart. She was definitely intimidating to me. I remember sitting in class talking to all my friends. The details get blurry from here but I remember being perplexed about a topic and asking her a question. It was a simple question yet her response was quite mean. This is probably why I remember it so vividly. She glared at me and declared, “Next time, think before you speak.”
She then moved on with the lesson like it was no big deal. I was stunned. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t say anything rude. Why did she make such a sly remark? It was only a question? I remember sitting there contemplating her response for a while. She was known to say this specific statement to students. But me…I was the perfect little fifth grader. How could she? I became really angry with how she treated me that day. I thought, “Doesn’t she know that to speak we have to think first? Duh.”
While I do believe it was not right for the teacher to embarrass me in front of the class, I was reminded today that there is a lot of truth behind her harsh reply. Even terrible elementary school memories can bring about positive transformation.
In the Bible we are constantly reminded of the power that is speech.
In Ephesians 4:29 it is written…
“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.”
This causes me to start asking a lot of questions.
- What does unwholesome mean?
- What does it mean to build others up?
- Who is listening?
“Wholesome” is a word defined as “conducive to or promoting moral well being.” Therefore, we have to decide what words are causing destruction.
The first thought that always comes to mind is cursing (or cussing to my non-northern friends). What is so wrong with that? It’s just words? That was what I thought for the longest time. Sometimes I still think that way. Don’t get me wrong, I am human. I still curse (or cuss whatever floats your boat). It has been, for me, the most difficult habit to break. I strive to stop but it is something I still struggle with daily.
However, a turning point in my understanding happened two years ago.
I was at a pool party with a lot of my family and friends. There was a little kid about ten years old playing a water polo type game with us in the pool. I then messed up during the game and got really frustrated with myself. Forgetting that he was playing with us, I shouted a curse word loud and clear. The minute I said it the kid looked at me with a face of disdain. His eyes were bugged eyed and he looked hurt. This was a young boy that I could tell looked up to me. What kind of role model was I now to him? Realizing my error, I stopped for a moment and realized that our speech defines us. The words that roll of our tongues are projections of our character.
Luke 6:45 tells it exactly how it is…
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
What is your heart full of today? Is it full of hatred, disgust, laziness, greed? If not, why do we allow our speech to project these images in our relationships with others. Is it full of love, joy, praise, truth? Allow your speech to be wholesome.
Building Others Up
Everyone remembers a compliment a stranger or a friend gave them at a random moment. Out of nowhere you go from having a so-so day to feeling like you are like a King or Queen. While the compliment can be about physical items such as, “I like your shoes”…it can also be about the character of another.
For example, when thanking an individual we are acknowledging their generous and helpful character. Words which positively acknowledging another have VALUE. In order to build others up we have to speak to them with words which guide them to see the virtue within themselves. To contrast this, in order to build others up we may also have to tell them if they are starting to crumble. When we see friends or family members go down the wrong path it is our job to be there and help them find stability. But, who am I to try to help them? You are someone that loves them and cares for them. You are a pillar. That is enough.
In Matthew 12:36 it is stated…
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”
You are responsible for the empty words. I see empty words as being words with no substance. Empty words are also lost words. Words never spoken. To not speech when you know it is necessary for the well-being of another is just as wrong as speaking “unwholesomely.”
Who is listening?
In short….everyone. The words we say about others define us. Just like I thought I was at the pool party with all older friends and family, I had forgotten that the little boy was present. Someone is ALWAYS looking up to you as a role model whether it be a younger sibling, friend, loved one, or neighbor. Even if you think that is not the case I can promise you it is true. Allow others to listen to words which guide them to truth, rather than planting tiny land mines. Allow yourself to listen to others that strive to speak virtuously. Let them be a guide for your own personal growth.
In conclusion, I read a quote a while ago which is summed up into something like this, “The adjectives you use to describe others, are the adjectives that describe yourself.”
Go out, treasure the gift of speech, and think before you speak.
You never know who is listening.