1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
The first example Paul gives is speech. Now, don’t get ahead of yourself and think this means you get to say whatever you want. You still have to respect your parents and other forms of authority. For some reason, because of our youth, people have a lot of opinions to say about us, including the way we talk. (Although, to be honest, we do say incredibly stupid things often.) Psalm 39:1 says, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.'” If we keep our tongue from sin, how do you think people will respond to their view of us? They’ll see something unique—the righteousness of God.
Words are powerful; they are the basis of our actions. Whatever we do, we will probably do what we said, with the exception of hypocrisy. But even in the case of hypocrisy, people believe the deceit in our words. If we watch our ways as David describes in this psalm, it’ll be that much easier to keep our tongue from sin. Imagine putting a muzzle over your mouth like we put over a dog’s to prevent it from biting people. We ought to put such a metaphorical muzzle over our mouths as long as the wicked are in our presence to prevent the venom of our words from biting people. The thing is, the wicked are always in our presence, so keeping this guard on must remain at all times.
Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” A smart man knows what to say; a wise man knows whether or not he should say it. Again, words are powerful. Words are so powerful that it is the Word of God that created the universe! He simply spoke, and everything came into existence. Likewise, our words have the power to build up or destroy (Proverbs 18:21). We might know the right thing to say (that is, “right” according to our own subjective reasoning), but one who is wise knows whether or not he should say it. Have the discernment to know whether or not it’s the proper time to say something. If the purpose is to build them up, then say it; if it’s for the purpose of destroying them, then don’t say it.
However, we all must keep in mind James 3:8, “But no man can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” No matter how much we train ourselves to not say anything bad or evil, we will always slip up because we’re still sinners. I’ve put this guard on my tongue many times, but I always fail. Being born into sin, we cannot escape it until Jesus comes again. We may not be able to completely rid ourselves of poor and evil speech, but with the strength of Christ we can lessen the effect of the evil the tongue speaks naturally, but we cannot tame it completely. You can tame a lion, but it can still maul you. Being Christian doesn’t mean we’re sinless, but it does mean Christ can help us to sin less.
So the next time you want to bite back with a passive-aggressive insult, or even an assertive insult, remember whether or not you should say it. When we do fail, remember to ask for their forgiveness; and as Christians, repentance is always available to us as well as prayer. Nearly every day I ask God to forgive me for my speech, and nearly every day I pray and ask Him to help me with my negative speech. And every day, I get better, but only because Christ gives me the ability to do so.
Stay tuned for next time when I talk about conduct.