The Law of Kindness on Her Tongue
I am sure that all of us, at one time or another, have experienced the devastating effect of harmful words.
Words are powerful things, they have the ability to cut, wound, and destroy. They can kill a relationship, crush a loved one’s spirit or wreck someone’s reputation. Words can destroy a marriage, a family, a church, or an entire community. Not only have we all been victims of harmful words, but who among us has not spoken words that have wounded a spouse, child, parent, sibling or friend? Most of us don’t think enough about the influence our words can have.
Proverbs 18:21 says that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Just as words have the ability to kill, they also have the ability to give life. Words can be used to: heal, nourish, restore, bless, strengthen, comfort, and encourage. Remember, a wise woman will build her house, but a foolish woman will tear it down with her own lips (Proverbs 14:1). Do the words you speak build up those in your household or tear them down?
What Our Speech Should Be
Scripture is full of verses that give us helpful criteria for what our speech should be:
“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” -Proverbs 10:21
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts. But the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
“Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is for a moment.” -Proverbs 12:19
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but a perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” -Proverbs 15:4
“The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so to the heart of fools.” -Proverbs 15:7
“With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” -Proverbs 25:15
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” -Ephesians 4:29
This is only a small fraction of verses that talk about our speech, but we see from these passages that:
- Our words should feed others
- Our words should bring healing
- Our words should be truthful
- Our words should be gentle
- Our words should spread knowledge
- Our words should be soft (Note here: Words will sometimes need to be reproving and we can see from other Scriptures that there is a time for rebuke. Harshness should not characterize the godly woman though and even truth must be spoken in love. It is possible to reprove and rebuke in a gentle, feminine way, more on this later.)
- Our words should build others up
- Our words should be fit for the occasion
- Our words should give grace to those who hear them
The Proverbs 31 woman was described as having “the law of kindness on her tongue.” Women who are striving for godliness should desire to be characterized in this way, not only by those in their church and community, but also by those closest to them- those in their own homes. Could your closest friends and family members describe you that way? Are you known as a woman who has the law of kindness on her tongue or as a harsh woman who is constantly criticizing and gossiping about others?
Think Before You Speak
For some, talking is as natural as breathing and they rarely stop to consider the consequences of the words they speak. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many transgressions are few.” I shudder to think of how many times my own words have been thrown out without any thought. Christ warns us that one day, we will be called to give an account for the words we speak (Matthew 12:34-37). On the day of judgment, every word that has come out of our mouth (or in our technological era, out of our fingers) will be reviewed. We will have to stand before God and give an account for every angry, hateful, bitter word- as well as for the foolish and thoughtless ones. If that thought doesn’t make us want to use great caution and care when we speak, I don’t know what will.
James has some excellent advice on this topic, he said in chapter 1, verse 19: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let ever person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (emphasis mine).
We would do well to follow his advice. This quote by Amy Carmichael is also helpful for filtering our speech, she said:
“Let nothing be said about anyone unless it passes through these three sieves:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?”
We could also add, let nothing be said to anyone unless it passes through those three tests. Stop and think before you speak. If you are unsure whether or not to say something that passes through your mind, it may be best to just hold your tongue and not say anything. You will never regret refusing to speak in haste. James 1:27 describes what true and undefiled religion truly is and what it should look like. I find it interesting though that the verse right before it says that if one cannot control his tongue, his religion is worthless (James 1:26). In other words, even if you do good things like caring for widows and orphans in their distress and keep yourself unstained by the world (James 1:27), it is all worthless if you have not learned to bridle your tongue (James 1:26). May our prayer be that of the Psalmist: “May the words of my mouth… be pleasing to You, O LORD my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
A Word on Tone
(Before I begin this section, I want to give credit to my husband for sharing these verses and some of these thoughts with me from a sermon he recently preached on this topic)
You can say all the right words but if they are said in the wrong tone, they can still be sinful. Tone and voice inflection are really important. When giving instructions to your children, do you sound angry or impatient? When speaking to your spouse, do you sound annoyed, frustrated or condescending? When talking to your parents, do you sound harsh and unloving? When speaking to a friend or co-worker, do you sound kind and as though you genuinely care about them? Scripture is full of verses that not only talk about our speech but also about our tone, here are a few of them:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” -Proverbs 15:1
“The wise of heart is call discerning, and the sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” -Proverbs 16:21
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” -Proverbs 16:24
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” -Ephesians 4:32
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” -Colossians 4:6
From these verses we see that our tone should be:
- Soft, not harsh
- Gracious and sweet
- Kind and tenderhearted, not bitter
- Gracious and seasoned with salt
These characteristics fit well with the attitude and demeanor that godly women ought to have according to 1 Peter 3:4- “but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (emphasis mine). I am not saying that women should be seen and not heard, nor that they should never speak up for the truth and defend what is right. You can speak truth in gentleness though. You can be bold but loving in your approach. You can be firm and speak up for what is right, but still be kind. You can correct others in humility, without harshness. Gentleness is beautiful and godly which is what we as women should be pursuing. It is sinful to speak sharply, ladies, but it glorifies God when we pause, pray and speak with gentleness.
A Word on Gossip
“Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” -1 Timothy 5:13
What I am about to say will likely be found offensive by some but please hear me out. If you look at the context of this verse, you will notice that Timothy was specifically talking about women here. As a woman myself, I am certainly not trying to come across as sexist or demeaning. If we are honest with ourselves though, I think it is pretty obvious that women do, generally speaking, struggle more in this area than men do. I am not saying that men never struggle in this area, or that all women struggle with it to the same degree, but the sin of gossip and oversharing does seem to be more of a temptation to women. Because this is generally the case, it is wise to check ourselves on this often and closely examine what Scripture has to say about it, here are a few examples:
“Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.” -Proverbs 10:18
“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” -Proverbs 16:28
“Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” -Ephesians 4:31
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it.” -James4:11
Scripture is pretty clear on the issue and considers those who participate in this sin to be “a fool”. Gossip is a dangerous thing; it has the ability to “separate close friends” and destroy someone’s reputation in a matter of minutes. It is something that believers should “put away” and have nothing to do with. It should certainly not be characteristic of us as Christians. Again, we would do well to follow Amy Carmichael’s advice shared above and not say anything about anyone unless it is true, kind and necessary.
Not only should we be cautious about spreading slander and gossip, but we should also exercise caution in listening to it. Gossip will die when it hits the wise woman’s ears; she won’t take interest in hearing your juicy spill about so and so. If someone comes to you with a complaint about someone else, ask them if they have taken it to the person directly as Scriptures tells us to (Matthew 5:23-24 & 18:15-17). If someone comes to you sharing things about a person, go to the person the claim was about and verify whether or not it is even true (Proverbs 18:17). Guard yourself against participating in gossip in any way, form or fashion.
Back to the Real Issue
Ultimately this all goes back to our hearts. Scriptures says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Fill your heart with Scripture and that is what will overflow when you open your mouth to speak. Fill your thoughts with things that are: true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8) and those things will overflow as you communicate with others. Ask God, as the Psalmist did, to “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” -Psalm 141:3 Strive to only speak words that will be honoring and glorifying to your King. Ask Him to put ”the law of kindness” on your tongue.