"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." (Prov. 25:11)
This verse tells us that where and when words are placed in a conversation—where we fit them in, if you will—can be as important as the words themselves. For most of us, this would include two places especially: at the first and the last, with the latter having a slight edge. To be the instigator a conversation has the advantage of setting the direction; and having the final word is presumed to be the final resolution of any argument...or so most of us think.
I corresponded with a friend sometime ago, who was agonizing over the fractured relationship she sometimes shares with her husband, because she seems to always have to have the last word. I told her I could identify with this, perhaps not to the same extent she pictured, but enough to turn plenty constructive, congenial conversations with my husband into unpleasant standoffs, in over fifty years of marriage. See, here's the thing: the longer you live with someone—even a wonderful someone—not only do you come to appreciate even more his or her “lovability,” the more you find out how to tap into his or her vulnerability, when an occasion of disagreement arises. This is when you make a choice. Is my vindication more important than my precious relationship with the man God gave me to love and cherish?
Besides this important principle, here are a few more reasons I would like to put forward to minimize, if I can, the importance of that dearly fought for last word:
1. The last word is not always the right word. Where an argument is placed in a conversation does nothing to bolster its innate accuracy. If you watch debates much, you know that something true and meaningful is never really lessened by any foolish inaccuracies that may follow it. "How forcible are right words" (Job 6:25). This is especially true when the Word of God is honestly and lovingly employed. No one trumps God, no matter how loudly or long they talk.
2. The last word is often an unkind word. More often than not, it's when a biting, personal argument is thrown in the mix that all conversation is stopped in its tracks. Sometimes a spouse or friend simply stops putting forward any counter arguments or suggestions when the other party has begun reasoning with his or her emotions, instead of his or her head. According to Ephesians 4:15, the emotion most compatible with truth is love.
3. The last word may turn out to be the ending word. This is sad. There may come a time when our insistence on having the last word has shut all doors to any further conversation on this, and many other, subjects. Unless important principles are at stake, some arguments are too painful to repeat. There may not be a physical separation (though there may be), but there can still be a cloud over a relationship that stifles any meaningful, intimate communication in the future.
4. God is the one who will truly have the last word. It's He who will be the final judge as to whose words were "fitly spoken." It all depends on whose vindication you regard most highly. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, He "answered nothing." And Mark says, "Pilate marvelled" (15:5). So do I. If anyone had the right to speak, it was Jesus Christ, and yet he allowed Pilate to have the last word. He knew the last word is not nearly as important as the final word. And the final Word will be His, for time and eternity.
I wrote this, not to inflict guilt, but to inspire change—in myself especially, since the desire for self-vindication only grows with age. By God's grace, I want the last words in any encounter in my life to be His, not mine.
"Let the words of my mouth...be acceptable in thy sight, O, Lord..." (Psl. 19:14)