This post is a follow-up to an essay I wrote last week, called “Bite and Devour,” in which I urged Christians not to do what Paul warned against in Galatians 5:15. We are just wrapping up our study of Galatians in Bible study, and I’d like to share some of Paul’s positive admonitions there and in his other epistles about what we ought to do and be.
In Galatians 5 Paul goes on to name the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Among the works of the flesh are “rivalries, dissensions, and divisions” (v. 20). The fruit of the Spirit stands in stark contrast:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
These are the qualities that should characterize not only our speech, but all of our actions. Those who belong to Christ Jesus put to death the works of the flesh (v. 24) and live by the Spirit (v. 25). If someone does need to be corrected, it should be done “in a spirit of gentleness” with the goal of restoring the person (Gal. 6:1).
One of the women in Bible study shared an acronym that reminds us to “think” about our words before we speak or write them:
T—Is it true?
H—Is it helpful?
I—Is it impartial?
N—Is it necessary?
K—Is it kind?
I included the question “Is it impartial?” (rather than the original “Is it inspiring?”) because I think that being fair and objective is essential in a forum where matters of such importance are being discussed. If we were to ask ourselves these questions before letting our words fly, we would do far less damage and bring far more healing.
Paul’s other epistles give further advice about the use of the tongue:
Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Speak only what is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:30).
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (Phil. 4:5).
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col. 3:12-14).
As James says, none of us can completely control our words:
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body (Js. 3:2).
But our goal should be to make all our words pleasing to God:
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col. 4:6).
Readers are invited to add other verses or sayings that give guidance as to how we should use our words. The Old Testament also has a lot to say about the tongue!