Imagine if you had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with an expert in an area in which you really could use help. Perhaps your living space is a mess and your favorite star of HGTV chooses to invest several hours helping you make magic. Imagine if PGA golfer Bubba Watson hit the brakes in front of your park only to see your tragic golf swing, and he jumps out to offer to help you. What if you need a money makeover and Dave Ramsey calls up to offer his services for half of a day?
Now, and I’m just making this up, suppose when your personal expert appears their breath is awful. It is not just that they forgot to brush their teeth in the morning, it is as if they had Doritos for breakfast topped off with French Onion Dip. As they blow their much needed wisdom at you, it’s as if the garlic cloves in the cupboard start to shrivel up and die. Is it possible that this person actually digested a skunk?
No matter how good and necessary the content of their conversation, you no longer want to hear it. You need space. You need oxygen. Their message is clear and so good for your ears to be hearing, but your nose wants nothing to do with it.
Sometimes we have some important things to say to our Christian brothers and sisters, but the way we say it affects the way our message is received. Harshness, a critical spirit, a condescending attitude, anger, or even a scowl are like communicating wonderful things with terribly bad breath. The person you are talking to will miss out on the benefits of your message because of the way it is delivered.
God cares more about your mouth than just about the words that you say. He also cares about how you say those words. It is not enough to always say the truth; you must also say it in love. Like Jesus, his children must be full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Here are three ways to get started in cultivating gracious speech.
1 . Identify the source.
The source of gracious speech is a gracious heart. All of our speech comes out of our heart. In the anatomy of the Bible, the heart is the control center of a person’s body. The heart is where a person thinks, feels, and makes decisions. The Lord Jesus says in Matthew12:34, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Proverbs 4:23 instructs us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
We know that our hearts are filled with remaining sin even as Christians. We are not, however, ruled over by our sin as Christians. The bondage to sin has been broken but remaining sin continues on. What is in our heart will come out of our mouth. Why are you harsh? Why are you critical? You need to identify the source of your harshness and being critical — it is because of the content of your thoughts, attitudes, emotions and choices.
2. Realize how evil being ungracious is.
Recognizing that the heart of your speech problem is your heart is a good beginning. Now consider the sort of things that are contained within a harsh heart? Every river begins with headwaters. What kinds of heart thoughts and attitudes are the headwaters of the river of your ungracious tones and words? Far deeper and darker are the source sins than the sinful words and tones from which they flow. Recognizing the special ugliness of your particular source sins behind your words and tones is the first step towards repentance and change. Consider some of the possibilities:
Anger What is it that gives your words their edge? Why did you put that sarcastic twist on your answer? Is it because you are angry at the other person? Heart anger tends to find its way out of a mouth in ungracious speech.
Manipulation Whenever you use sinfully strong words and tones to make a point and win the day, you are manipulating the discussion. Whether or not you are right about the interpretation of a portion of the Bible or the way that the Bible’s teachings fit together, you can sometimes “win” by intimidation. Do you really think our Lord smiles at his children who sin to win?
Revenge Are you trying to make the person feel badly for the way they were speaking or acting towards you? Revenge in a heart says, “I’m going to use my tone and my words to punish you and to get back at you.” The Bible is clear that we are never to seek our own revenge, whether it is physical or verbal. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19, 21).
A Lack of Love and Compassion First Corinthians 13 is the famous love chapter in the Bible. Love’s virtues are described as being patient and kind and not being arrogant, rude or irritable. So if you ever hear words funneling out of your mouth that are unkind, ungracious and condemning, you can know you are not showing love to the person you are speaking to.
Thoughtlessness How many times have you reacted emotionally instead of responded thoughtfully? A lack of carefully guarding first our hearts but then our tongues is a hidden cause of sinful styles of speaking. Being thoughtless blends in nicely with some of the other root causes in produce the harvest of harshness.
Impatience The other person should’ve received my important point by now. They deserve a stronger word to help them understand. Behind the intensity can lay a heart of impatience?
Pride Obviously, behind every one of these root causes is their mother — pride. When I am being harsh and critical, I think I’m right. In fact, I know I’m right. The fool in Proverbs is filled with pride. “I don‘t really care about you and what you think,” says the Fool, “I am just shooting my mouth off — blasting away — my view or no view.”
These sins below the surface are not pretty. I find it much easier to be harsh with others when I don’t allow myself to wonder about the source of my sinful edge. Because we want to overcome such wickedness, however, we must go below the surface of our lips into our hearts. We must identify the ugly sources of our sinful speech and call them what they are.
3. Repent of Your Harsh Heart
True repentance begins by seeing your sin for what it is. But true repentance doesn’t end there. Once you have seen how evil being harsh is, you must turn your heart from those things to the Lord. These are not trivial matters; they are not small issues. Every heart sin originating and sustaining the sinful words and tones coming from your mouth must be dealt with.
Acknowledge the anger, lack of love, and pride. Make no excuses for them — they flow directly from your heart. Confess them to the Lord. Turn from them with the intention of never returning to them again. Seek to replace those vices with corresponding godly virtue. The wonderful news is that the blood of Jesus even covers wicked sins of the heart, in addition to the unkind fruit that follows.