Two weeks ago, I wrote, “7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media.” It would have been impossible to anticipate the response. More people read it than anything I have ever written and got feedback from more places than I have ever received.
Much of the feedback I received came from people who were thankful for the post and benefited from it as they sorted through how to respond to our unique cultural moment. Some of the responses that came my way were of the not happy variety and warned that following my advice would lead to weak-kneed Christians who said nothing and did nothing. After all, they said, that is how we got to where we are today.
In this post, I don’t necessarily want to respond to any particular piece of negative feedback I received, but I do want to double down on my main point. Christians need to speak less and be more thoughtful when we do speak. This is not the random observation of a timid, peace-keeping pastor in central Alabama, but the witness of Solomon, James, Paul, and Jesus.
There are three reasons we speak less and think more before we speak.
We Often Speak with Incomplete Information
“The fool does not delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Solomon cuts to the heart of our foolish speech when he notes our tendency to speak without having all of the facts on a matter. We equate off the cuff remarks with authenticity and interpret carefully construed words as being fake and deceitful.
The Bible doesn’t offer this interpretation of thinking before you speak. Instead, Scripture prizes speaking the truth. So often, when we speak off the cuff, we do not know if our words are true or not. Because of the ubiquity of social media in our culture, we feel the pressure to state strong opinions with incomplete information. This won’t do for the Christian though because we must know that we are speaking the truth before we open our mouths. To do otherwise is to act with foolishness instead of wisdom, run the risk of bearing false witness against our neighbor, and violate the character of our Lord who is the truth.
We Often Speak without Self-Control
“Whoever restrains his words has wisdom, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In Proverbs 17:24, Solomon connects the words we speak to the disposition of our spirits. A man with a “cool spirit” is contrasted with the person who has a hot temper. The person who keeps a calm spirit thinks through what they are going to say. The person caught in a moment of rage will speak with disastrous results.
We don’t think before we speak when we are in the middle of a temper tantrum. We can only think about how angry we are and lash out without thought to the damage our words may cause. It is imperative that the person who follows Jesus learns to control his temper and to restrain his words when he is angry.
We Often Speak with Poor Intentions
We never speak with perfect intentions, but it does not follow that we should just say whatever we think in the moment. A hospital room will never be completely germ-free, but you wouldn’t want to have surgery in a sewer. In the same way, we cannot let our lack of perfection justify speaking from wrong motives.
If it is true that whatever we do we must do for the glory of God, then we must evaluate our motives before we speak, especially if what we are going to say will provoke people. There’s nothing wrong with provoking people with the truth if we do it for the right reasons, but many times we provoke people for the sake of provoking them or not thinking carefully about the context in which it will be done. Are we speaking out of love or are we speaking out of selfishness? Are we speaking for the good of others or are we speaking only to vent?
When Then, Should We Speak?I recognize that what I am advocating could be taken as an argument for never saying anything difficult or controversial. After all, how will Christians make a difference in the world if we never speak up?
The problem for Christians in our culture has not been our lack of “speaking out” or “standing up.” In fact, we have done it so much and so harshly that we have cut off the ears of many people who would have listened to us. Also, we have done so in improper contexts. Only under the rarest of circumstances is social media the place to “take a stand.” On social media, we usually end up only reinforcing what people who agree with us already think, anger those who seriously disagree, or drive away those who haven’t made up their minds through our combative tone.
There is a proper time to speak up, though, providing that we meet three criteria.
We Speak When We Know
We only open our mouths to speak about an issue when we know what we are talking about. We speak when we know that we are speaking facts and speaking the truth. We cannot bring glory to God while breaking the ninth commandment.
We Speak When We Think
Since we will give an account for every word we speak, we would do well to think about what we say before it comes out of our mouths. Is it gracious? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it spoken for the glory of God and the good of others? If we think about these things and weigh our words wisely, then we should open our mouths to speak because God does use our words to accomplish his purposes.
We Speak When We Care
The writer of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Since the tongue carries this tremendous power, we consider the people who will hear what we say. In what ways could this cut or hurt them? In what ways could this encourage them or give them grace? If we love people, we must think about these things.
“With the tongue we bless our Lord and father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” We should write this warning from James 3 over everything that we say. Our words can do great damage to the cause of the Christ and to the people who hear us. At the same time, God uses our words to get the Gospel to people, to encourage the broken, and to bring glory to himself. Because our words can bring about two very different results, shouldn’t we spend more time thinking about what we say before we say it? Shouldn’t we give more thought to how it will impact people? Shouldn’t we examine our words to make sure they are true? We should, and in giving greater consideration to our words they will bring about greater good to those who hear them.
For Further Reading:
Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison