It is an opinionated world these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion about everything. It has always been like that. What seems to have changed these days, is that now most everyone seems to want to share their opinion, it even seems that many feel compelled to share their opinion. I get this from the world in the age of social media, but believers in Christ should know better. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the only appropriate comment for a Christian to make is no comment.
Before we get to the 99 times, I want to address the one. There are times when as a believer you ought to speak out on a controversial or disputed matter. But there are two key questions to consider before speaking (or tweeting or blogging).
The first question you need to answer is “do you have direct knowledge of the situation you are addressing?” And by direct knowledge, I mean direct knowledge. The question to ask yourself is did you yourself witness the situation, or were you directly involved somehow. If not, anything you have to say in legal terms is hearsay, but in biblical terms it is gossip and gossip is sin.
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. – 2 Corinthians 12:20-21
Notice that gossip is in the same list as quarrelling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, conceit and disorder. And it comes in same context, of Paul telling the Corinthians he is concerned that when he arrives in Corinth he is afraid that he will find them in a sinful state, where to the list already given he adds impurity, sexual immorality and sensuality. Gossip is a serious sin, and has absolutely no place in a Christian’s life.
The second question you need to answer is “is what I am about to say edifying?” According to Webster’s edifying means “instructive or informative in a way that improves the mind or character.” And again, Paul helps us understand why it is so important to ask ourselves if what we are saying (or tweeting or writing) is edifying before we say it
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up (edification), as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. – Ephesians 4:29-30
If it is not edifying, it is corrupting. And it grieves the Holy Spirit. If you are unsure if what you say/write will benefit the hearer why risk grieving the Holy Spirit? And if you love God’s people why say or write something doesn’t benefit those who hear/read it?
If you ask these questions, and the honest answer to both is yes, by all means tweet, blog and speak freely. In fact it is incumbent on you to speak out.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1:19-20
And in the very next verse, James goes on to call hasty speech and anger “filthiness.” It goes without saying that hasty speech is forbidden for the believer. But it is more dire than that. As Jesus said everyone will have to give an account for every idle word they have ever spoken (Matt 12:36).
And flippant use if speech is simply unwise. Consider these admonitions from Proverbs.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. – Proverbs 4:23-24
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. – Proverbs 10:19
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. – Proverbs 11:13
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 12:18
A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly. – Proverbs 12:23
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. – Proverbs 13:3
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. – Proverbs 17:9
The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. – Proverbs 17:14
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. – Proverbs 17:27-28
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. – Proverbs 21:23
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. – Proverbs 26:4
Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. – Proverbs 26:17
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 29:20
If you think that is overkill, I assure you, it is not. In fact, that is only a fraction of the proverbs that deal with speech. And the message is always the same, watch your mouth and when in doubt don’t speak.
And why I think this is so important to understand is that in the past few months I have been asked to comment on several things that I know nothing about. Things that were said to have happened at a college and seminary I attended, years before I arrived there. I’ve been asked to comment on a scandal that occurred at a church two time zones away, that I never (not once) attended. I’ve been asked to take a side in a dispute between two pastors neither of whom I have ever met. I fear that these requests are rooted in a church culture where it seems everyone feels license to weigh in on everything. And it is a culture where to some it seems odd if I don’t weigh in on every possible topic. And that is very clearly a church culture that does not reflect the heart of God.
So next time you have the opportunity to weigh in on an issue you are not involved in, or to take sides in a dispute not your own, consider joining me in only offering the comment “no comment.”