Teachers, watch your words

shhh“If you your lips would keep from slips, five things observe with care: Of whom you speak, to whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.”

This clever little rhyme, along with myriads of other pithy statements, underscores the need for us to carefully guard the words that come out of our mouths.

In WWII America propagandists would warn, “Loose lips sink ships” and in youth group settings pastors often remind their students that “a word is like toothpaste—once expelled you can never get it back in the tube.”

Despite these catchy reminders; however, it can still be so difficult for us humans to truly manage our speech.

I was once in a class with a respected, older pastor and he began his lecture by stating, “I never say anything I don’t mean exactly.” I accidentally laughed out loud when he made the statement because I thought he was trying to be funny—who never says anything that they don’t mean exactly? But he was serious. He knew firsthand how ruinous ill-timed or ill-placed words can be, and he also knew that the Bible gives a special warning to those of us who would presume to be teachers.

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James then goes on to advocate prudence in speech, making his emphasis clear: people whose ministry is words will be held more strictly accountable for their words.

We all need to watch our words because they always come back to haunt us. What gets whispered in the dark inevitably finds the light of day. Additionally none of us want our loved ones to bear scars from our regrettable speech—rather, we want to heal and build up, always leveraging the weight of our words well. This becomes even more important when we have been entrusted with a ministry of words.

If you are a teacher, pastor, counselor, writer, parent, or coach, please be careful with your words. They are weightier than you think. People will believe what you say, and your words will either produce life-giving, grace-infused fruit or poisoned fruit that only troubles your hearers.

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