Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
In today’s culture, “speaking your mind” is considered a virtue and a hailed as a sign of good leadership. But is this trait something the Bible commends? Should Christians be known for “speaking their mind?” There are several truths about our speech we should consider from Scripture:
1. The Bible commends honest speech. God hates a “lying tongue” (Prov. 6:17). Lying is a sin, the product of a fallen nature. Lying is the work of the enemy. Truthful speech is the sign of a redeemed heart. (See Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:25; John 8:44)
2. The Bible commends truthful speech for rebuke. The wounds of a friend are faithful, (Prov. 27:6), while flattery is the tool to leverage proximity for personal gain (Prov. 29:5). Nathan courageously confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:17). Jesus gives instructions designed to restore a sinful brother into loving community (Matt. 1815-17). Paul considers such a speech a sign of love, from one brother or sister, to another (Gal. 6:1).
3. The Bible commends speaking against sin and heresy. Jesus very publicly confronted errant religious leaders. When the heart of the Gospel message was at stake, Paul was unafraid to confront Peter publicly (Gal. 2:11-13). Much of the New Testament, consists of public letters that contain stinging rebuke of sin. Paul says that polemics are not only important within the church, but also without, as we are tasked with engaging the reigning worldview arguments and presenting alternative, biblical worldview (2 Cor. 10:5).
4. The Bible seems to commend the use of satire and other forms of creative engagement. Elijah playfully taunted the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Jesus used parables, metaphors, and similes in communicating truth. Paul was often acerbic in his rebuke of the Corinthians. Sharply worded polemics, uplifting satire, and, at times, sarcasm, can be employed in a way that reflects faithful Christian witness. However, this must be done within the boundaries of what is considered civil and wise speech (more to follow).
5. The Bible commends civility and respect in speech. In the Scriptures, kindness, respect, and good manners are not simply “nice” things for people, but are considered Christian virtues. Peter, addressing the persecution and marginalization of Christians, exhorts God’s people to be courageous and civil (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter also reminds us to treat others with dignity (1 Pet. 2:17). Lastly, one of the cornerstone characteristics of qualified church leaders is gentleness (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3).