"When to Keep Your Mouth Shut"

This is the title of a short article in Brio and Beyond, June 2002, written by Rebecca Sweat. This magazine is written mainly for teenage girls (including my own daughters), otherwise I (an aging man) never would have encountered it. However, the article was featured on the cover, and it appeared at a moment after I had just been severely rebuked for not keeping my mouth shut at work. The article was so clear and basic that I thought it would be worthwhile to share its wisdom with you.

Bible students are familiar with the Bible's pronouncements on this subject, particularly in Proverbs and in James, the practical disciple, where he denounces "the tongue":

"When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the same tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."

-- James 3:3-18 NIV

Ms. Sweat makes this advice even more practical by offering five questions to ask yourself before opening your mouth:

  1. Will my words improve the situation?
  2. Do I know all the facts?
  3. Was I asked for my opinion?
  4. Is it my place to speak?
  5. Is the other person ready to hear what I have to say?

I suggest that you print out this list and paste it in a place where you can see it often and remember to ask yourself these questions -- not only when speaking, but also when writing. That is what I need to do. I am grateful to Rebecca Sweat for her five "tongue filters" and I commend these to everyone.

Click here for copies to print out!

Paul Arveson, 2002