Gospel-Salted Speech in A Sin-Salty Age
Speech is powerful. I still remember when my beautiful baby boy uttered the words “da da” for the first time. Once he realized these words quickly grabbed my attention and my heart, he would enthusiastically repeat them.
In this age of social media and a proliferation of (what seems to be) an endless amount of books and blogs on inexhaustible topics, consumers constantly hear and read words. However, unlike the heart-wrenching words of a beautiful baby boy who says “da da” for the first time, much speech in current Christian discourse (no matter what the topic) is not gracious, kind, or remotely close to anything that resembles a deeply committed Christian walk in the Spirit.
On a daily basis, there are those who profess Christ across ethnic, racial, political, and class lines who use vicious speech to attack those with whom they disagree on issues of politics, race, justice, economics, theology, sports, or a host of other issues. Too often we regularly devote our speech to slander, personal attacks, and misrepresentations of the views of others who profess Christ simply because we disagree with those who don’t share our views. We wrongly use our words to assault the image of God in those with whom we disagree, even if they are fellow believers.
To be clear, Christians can and must speak boldly, truthfully, passionately, prophetically, and graciously with conviction about pressing issues and issues about which we believe honor Jesus. However, we must always do so in the power of the Spirit expressing fear of God, love for God, and love for neighbor in obedience to the scriptures. The bible talks a lot about appropriate speech for those who fear and love God.
The Fear of the Lord and Wise Speech
The fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom (Prov 1:7). Those who fear the Lord should not have “crooked speech” or “devious talk” (Prov. 4:24). The wicked have “crooked speech” (Prov. 6:12). Those who hate evil fear the Lord because the Lord hates “pride,” “arrogance,” “the way of evil,” and “perverted speech” (Prov. 8:13).
The wise have discernment, and those with sweet speech are able to persuade their listeners (Prov. 16:21, 23). A worthless man (i.e. one who does not fear God) is a schemer of evil, and his speech is destructive (Prov. 16:27). Better to be poor with integrity than to speak crookedly like a fool (Prov. 19:1). Those who graciously speak will befriend those in authority (Prov. 22:11). Proverbs also talks about the importance of godly speech with the metaphor of the tongue (Prov. 6:17, 24; 10:20, 31; 12:18–19; 15:2, 4; 16:1; 17:4, 20; 18:21; 21:6, 23; 25:15, 23; 26:28; 28:23; 31:26).
Jesus says our words will either “justify” us or “condemn” us in the Day of judgment (Matt. 12:37). The apostle Paul also commands us to have godly speech. He urges us to put off the old man and to put on the new man (Eph. 5:24). One piece of this old man that we must put away is filthy speech, foolish talk, and coarse jesting (Eph. 5:4). Paul is not only talking about profanity (which is both foolish and immature speech), but he also refers to all forms of speech contrary to the new life in Christ (Eph. 4:17-25).
This foolish speech includes slander, lies, and every evil word that may come out of someone’s mouth (Eph. 4:24, 29). Instead, Christians should speak good to the ears of those who hear their words so that they will build them up and give grace to them (Eph. 4:29). Christians should put away all forms of bitterness and wrath, be gracious, and compassionate toward one another (Eph. 4:31-32), as they work to put away all shameful, foolish, and vulgar speech (Eph. 5:4). Remember, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Col. 4:6). Our speech should be an example to others (1 Tim. 4:12).
Similar to Proverbs, James speaks of speech with the imagery of the tongue. He says one who practices pure and undefiled religion “bridles” his tongue (James 1:26). The destructive nature of the tongue is one reason James warns us from becoming teachers (James 3:1-12). He laments the tongue is small, but it can cause a destructive fire (James 3:5-6). The tongue will cause many to suffer God’s wrath in hell (James 3:6). Without divine intervention (James 3:17), no human being can tame his tongue since it is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” that both blesses the Lord and curses his image-bearers (James 3:8-10).
Yet, James says things ought not to be this way amongst the people of God (James 3:10). We should not speak evil against one another (James 4:11-12).
Scripture is clear! Those who follow Christ must speak with words consistent with our confession of faith in Jesus. Even when we fiercely debate and passionately disagree with fellow image-bearers inside and outside the church, and no matter how important our cause, we must speak with love, truth, and grace.
To obey the scriptures in this way is difficult. We all fall short. When we sin, we should be quick to ask for forgiveness and repent privately or publicly in ways consistent with the manner by which we sin against each other with our words.
Christians should speak passionately and with urgency and conviction about issues we deem to be important. However, we must always do so in step with the Spirit and the redemption we have in Christ, even when speaking to, of, or about those with whom we disagree and even when our interlocutors are not in the room. Our speech should be seasoned with gospel-saturated and Spirit-empowered salt in a world salty with sin and filled with a plethora of social media outlets where Spirit-seasoned speech is difficult to find, even among Christians.
- Don’t lie about people who disagree with your views.
- Don’t slander people who disagree with your views.
- Don’t use filthy speech about people who disagree with your views.
- Don’t believe or spread conspiracy theories just to win a crowd over to your views.
- Don’t demonize someone on social media just because they disagree with your views.
- Don’t engage in ad hominem attacks by labeling someone with inflammatory names when they disagree with your views.
- Don’t backbite people who disagree with your views.
- Don’t dehumanize fellow image-bearers when they disagree with your views.
- Don’t let lust for political power seduce you into thinking that integrity no longer matters when you speak about your views.
- Don’t forget basic Christian manners when you articulate your views.