In this highly contentious political climate, the news media and online critics find no greater pleasure than to reveal a public figure whose words or online posts seem to contradict a position they claim to hold or reveal a hidden bias they may have. As a result, there is a lot of back peddling from those statements to “clear the air.” For someone to say “I misspoke” is simply to state a fact. To be sure, it is better than a denial or an attempt at a cover up. By itself, “misspeaking” might seem trivial, the verbal equivalent of a typo, but taking “responsibility” for misspeaking gives an impression of “full accountability.” I never cease to be amazed at how people in the public light can get in trouble for the things they say, which are completing blown out of proportion. But speaking from experience, I know it can happen to anyone.
Even though we have all said things we regret, the most important factor in what we say is not the trivial things, but the consideration of the impact of our words in light of eternity. As Christians, there is no faster way for us to lose credibility with those around us than to lose control of what comes out of our mouth. Similarly, there is probably no greater disruptive force in our churches or here at school, than words spoken in anger or as gossip. It is the same for a parent, who can lose the relationship with a child by words spoken in anger or frustration. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk (corrupt communication) 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.” In the book of James we read, “…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” In other words, everything we say to others must be for the purpose of benefiting those who hear us speak, or we can get into a lot of trouble. We simply cannot allow evil things to come out of our mouth and ruin our ministry and our testimony. The evil things spoken of in scripture can be described in several ways. The Bible specifically talks to the people about Christians who were talking about other Christian church members. The same things apply right inside our homes, our own churches, our classrooms, our neighborhood, and even our online presence through social networking. Speaking evil against others, slandering, criticizing, using disparaging remarks, tearing or cutting down others, are all examples of evil or corrupt communication and cannot be a part of our practice as Christians.
On the other hand, the influence we can have with our children and our students by the good things we say, can be incredible. A parent or teacher can inspire, can encourage, and teach a concept to a child for the first time. We can provide comfort, sooth hurt feelings, and communicate our love and concern, all with the words we speak. Parents have the incredible opportunity to teach life lessons through every day to day family experience, and most importantly parents can offer daily spiritual teaching through these same circumstances. In I Peter 4:11 it is explained in a wonderful way, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The Bible promises more to us as parents. Proverbs 22:6 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it..” Proverbs 6:20-23 reminds children of the value of the words of a parent, “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.” The value of what and how we speak to our children can literally be a life changing influence. So while it is one thing to have a slip of the tongue, or an awkward moment which results in embarrassment, the implications of the impact of our words on our children and our students is dynamically instrumental, both as an example that will impact them positively and negatively. May we choose to surrender the control of our words to the Lord through the Holy Spirit. May we demonstrate every day that our life and our words are under God’s control, and the influence we have with others, especially our children, is faithful to God’s plan for their lives.
Robert Andrews, Ph.D.