By BRUCE GREEN
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
I remember a man, a World War II veteran, who liked to say that free speech wasn’t free — it came at the cost of the lives of the people who fought to preserve it. It was a needed reminder of the difference between an entitlement and a legacy. It is not helpful or healthy to think of freedom of speech as an entitlement we are free to use and abuse in any way we so choose because we “have the right to.” Having the right to do something doesn’t make whatever you do right, as many in our culture seem to think. It is better to think of freedom of speech as a legacy, and we honor it by choosing our words carefully. If everyone would practice that, it would go a long way toward elevating our speech — and our speech could use some elevating.
For the disciple of Christ, there should be another layer. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to give us right to free speech but rather the responsibility of “freed speech” — speech that has been freed from “anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language” (Colossians 3:8). Speech that has been liberated from lying (v. 9).
With the advent of the internet and later social media, the volume of speech and information available exploded, and it now has the capability of going viral. Isn’t it interesting and more than a bit revealing that we use a word associated with the spread of disease to describe this phenomenon? I think you could make a good case that this is exactly the right term when you consider that:
Never before has so much been said about so little,
(Does the world really need to know what we had for breakfast, lunch and dinner?)
Never before has so much been said so badly,
(Language police alert — but seriously, there is a reason language is standardized — it’s so everyone can understand it!)
Never before has so much been said without thinking. (Is what I have said true, helpful and needed, or is it false, harmful and unnecessary?)
All of this simply means that as disciples of Jesus we need to do some serious thinking about our speech. But, as always, we’re not alone — God is present in our lives through His Spirit and through His word. And through the word, the Spirit gives us wonderful guidance in regard to our speech. You can find this guidance scattered throughout the Biblical witness, but there is definitely a strong concentration of instruction to be found in the book of Proverbs.
Next week, in part two, we’ll look at what God has said about our speech in Proverbs.
You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: a-taste-of-grace-with-bruce-green.com