One of the joys of the world wide web is its boundless access to information. The word joy might come off heavy-handed, but the internet makes searching for quotes quite fun. For example, the title of today’s post, “think before you speak,” bubbled up to the surface of my mind. I wondered if it came from a larger quote within a literary or philosophical context. After searching for “think before you speak” via Google, I found a variation of it on http://www.brainyquote.com. Here’s the full quote attributed to Napoleon Hill: “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” Those are wise words from the late Mr. Hill, who knows a thing or two about success. To be blunt, this post has nothing to do whatsoever about success or failure. This automatically raises the question about the point of this quote.
The initial clause of Mr. Hill’s quote states, “think twice before you speak.” There are an infinite number of contexts where speaking without thinking proves disastrous to all concerned. One stereotypical example is the black sheep of one’s family giving a speech at a wedding while drunk. Another example, more pointed and personal, has to do with responding to one’s significant other with hurtful words in the heat of the moment. For the speaker, regret usually ensues due to the aftermath of such an interaction. For the receiver of the speaker’s hurtful words, the experience jolts his or her trust in the person. Before this heated exchange, a bridge existed upon which both parties could cross without hesitation. After the encounter, said bridge has collapsed with both parties on it. This image of the collapsed bridge seems extreme, but the speaker must work to rebuild it.
The whole concept of thinking before speaking is a common refrain for all areas of life. I mean, I have heard this ever since I could crawl. My parents heard it from their parents, who heard it from their parents and on and on it goes. Throw teachers and athletic coaches into the mix, and thinking before speaking becomes a crucial lesson to learn and practice. Lives will be affected in the wake of our words. There is something else that lurks beneath the concept of thinking before speaking. I am not referring to patience, which is important, nor am I hinting at anger. Underlying the concept of thinking before speaking is self-control, which brings to mind the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter five. If I am speaking out of turn, or expressing myself in the heat of battle, the larger and more core issue is a dire lack of self-control.
When the anger and impatience flow out of my mouth in rash words, this means that I have allowed my flesh to govern me rather than the Spirit. Any hope of remaining wise or prudent has been cast aside for foolishness. In fact, it is more than foolishness. In the heat of the moment, I have become a fool. If this sounds harsh, then digest these words from Solomon: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV). The whole verse is powerful, but especially these two ideas: 1.) the receiver of rash words experiences them like a sword thrust; and 2.) The one who speaks the rash words is a fool. Rash words leave everyone bloody and wounded, which is evidence of fleshly living rather than Spirit-filled living. Lord, have mercy on me for the rash words that I have spoken in the recent past.