“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable…” Proverbs 10:32
These words say two things to me: 1) There is an acceptable and unacceptable way of speaking. 2) The man or woman who walks in the way of righteousness knows the difference.
This involves more than just how one says things; it goes further to when, where, and two whom he or she may speak. A word spoken in “due season” is a good thing, says Proverbs 15:23, but just as there is a time to speak, there is also “a time to keep silence,” (Eccl. 3:7). To point out someone’s flaws to him or her in the presence of others is not acceptable, but to speak the truth in love to an individual in private, is. (Exceptions only reinforce this.) And, further, truth spoken to one may not be acceptable for all. Paul told the Corinthian believers that there were things he was unable to say to them because they were “not able to bear it” (1Cor. 3:2). This doesn’t always depend on growth in grace either. Don’t assume that everything God says to you is meant to share with the next brother or sister you encounter. Some of it may be a “Lover’s secret” between Him and you.
I think one of the most helpful passages on how one should speak is found in Solomon’s sometimes frustrating book of Ecclesiastes: “The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of the assemblies, which are given from one shepherd” (12:10-11). Any speaker or writer knows what it is to search for just the right words—the “acceptable” words—that will convey his or her meaning in the most effective way. (“How forcible are right words! Job 6:25) These verses tell us they should be words of truth that “goad” the thinking, that fasten themselves like nails in the mind of the hearer, so that they are remembered later. In addition, they should be words that are gleaned from our own thoughts (“from one shepherd”), not just the rehashed platitudes of others.
Now, I hope I haven’t scared us all into utter silence! There are many times when failure to speak can be just as wrong. After all, the verse that I excerpted earlier says in its entirety: “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Prov. 15:23)
The gift of speech is a gift of God for our enjoyment, edification, and to give adoration to Him. Like all His gifts, it can be abused. But the man or woman who lives and walks in paths of righteousness will know what is acceptable. They will always know what to say.
“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt. 12:37