When I lived in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, some years ago, the local Ministerial Association invited a prominent minister to lead a series of evangelistic meetings. The speaker wasn't Billy Graham, but he was well-known, and so, his visit was highly anticipated.
At the beginning of his first address, he announced that there would be a change from his normal practice of going to the door to greet attendees at the end of the service. Apparently, at his previous engagement, he had followed this normal custom, and had been warmly greeted with favourable comments until the third person shook his hand and said, "Worst sermon I've ever heard."
Stunned, he continued to be warmly greeted until this same person again appeared in the line, shook his hand, and said, "Just stuff and nonsense."
The line continued, and then for a third time, the same person said, "Just plain garbage."
He told us that when he arrived at the home where he was staying, he commented upon the lovely people that had been present and the kind comments that had been made. He did, however, start to describe one person who was quite different.
The host immediately told the visitor not to worry. Apparently, he knew exactly who it was and said that the person was developmentally challenged. "He is really quite harmless. In fact, all he ever does is repeat what he hears other people say."
After the audience's laughter subsided, the speaker was able to go on to teach profound thoughts.
The tongue is a powerful tool that can be used for good. Kind, positive comments can be very helpful. They can be considered a little thing, but can have a big influence, especially when someone is feeling discouraged.
But the words must be sincere, or they could have the opposite effect. Have you ever fallen into the trap of saying, "How are you today?" and then not listening to the reply? We sometimes greet another in a flippant manner and then do more harm than good when we don't take the time to listen to the reply of someone who is really hurting.
The host said that the person described was "quite harmless". In fact, by repeating the words of others, he was doing harm. But probably the greater harm was done by the insincere people who made negative comments but then said favourable things later.
There is a time for constructive criticism, but generally, the old advice is wise counsel: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." You never know when someone else might repeat it!
There are many verses in the Bible that give us good advice regarding what we say.
Psalm 141:3 – Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (ESV)
Proverbs 17:27-28 – A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. (NIV)
Perhaps, we should remember the children's song:
- Be careful little tongue what you say
For the Father up above is looking down in love,
So be careful little tongue what you say.
Prayer: Dear Father, thank You for the opportunity that we have to help others by what we say. Help us to be careful to use that gift to Your glory. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.