We live in an age where “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:
- The Bible commends honest speech. Proverbs 6:17 names a “lying tongue” as one of the things God hates. The prophet Zechariah instructed God’s people: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another.” Paul commands the new covenant people of Ephesus, “Let every one of you speak truth to his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). Lying is a sin, the product of a fallen nature. Lying is the work of the enemy (John 8:44). So truthful speech is the sign of a redeemed heart.
- The Bible commends truthful speech for rebuke. Faithful, the Proverbs says, are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). Flattery is the tool, not of someone looking to deepen a relationship but to leverage proximity for personal gain (Proverbs 29:5). God used the courage of the prophet Nathan to confront David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:17). Jesus in Matthew 18 gives instructions on redemptive confrontation designed to restore a sinful brother into loving community (Matthew 18). Paul considers this a sign of love, from one brother or sister, to another (Galatians 6:1).
- The Bible commends public arguments against sin and heresy. Jesus very publically, throughout the gospels, confronted errant religious leaders. When the heart of the gospel message was at stake, Paul was unafraid to confront Peter publically (Galatians 2:11-13). And much of the New Testament, the inspired canon of Scripture, consists of public letters that contain, at times, stinging rebuke of sin. Paul says that polemics are not only important within the church, at times, but also without, as we are tasked with engaging the reigning worldview arguments and presenting alternative, biblical worldview (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- 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 employed the use of 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 (see below).
- The Bible commends civility and respect in speech. In the Scriptures, kindness, respect and good manners are not simply “nice” things for certain people, but are considered Christian virtues. Peter, in a letter written to address the persecution and marginalization of Christians, exhorts God’s people to be both courageous and civil (1 Peter 3:15). Later Peter reminds us to treat every single human being with dignity (1 Peter 2:17). In the Pastoral Epistles, you will notice that one of the cornerstone characteristics of qualified church leaders is gentleness (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3).
- The Bible commends wise and informed speech. The way we speak is a oft-repeated theme in Scripture. James devotes almost an entire chapter to the power of the tongue (James 3). Words have power. Words matter. Words can either be life-giving or life-crushing. King David’s prayer was for a mouth that offered words that were “acceptable” in the sight of God (Psalm 19:14). Proverbs affirms the value of applying just the right word in the right moment (Proverbs 25:11) and, like James (James 1:19), rebukes those who speak before thinking (Proverbs 17:28; 29:20).
- The Bible says that the mouth is a good barometer of the heart. Luke records Jesus words: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Words are not neutral; they reflect either good or evil. Nobody can really say, “I didn’t mean that.” It’s better to say, when we misspeak, “Those words come from an unsanctified part of my heart.” What’s more, speaking my mind may not reflect speaking that is true or virtuous, because the Christian mind is in constant state of needing to be renewed by the gospel (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
- The Bible commends the wisdom of not sharing everything with everyone all the time. Proverbs says trustworthy people keep confidential information confidential and it is a sign of low character to reveal secrets (Proverbs 11:3). Later, Proverbs extols the “prudent man” who knows to keep information to himself and rebukes the “heart of fools that speak folly” (Proverbs 12:23). Sharing everything all the time to anyone who listens is not a sign of “authenticity” but a sign of foolishness.
- The Bible commends humility as a sign of grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”—this maxim is mentioned three times in Scripture (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6,1; 1 Peter 5:5). What does this have to do with our speech? It tells us, I believe, that graceful, measured, civil speech is a sign of God’s grace, and proud, boastful speech is a sign of God’s resistance. Humility means speaking with recognition of our own fallenness. It means resisting the urge to speak out of turn. It means we have the self-awareness to know if we are the right person to speak on a particular issue at a particular time.
- The Bible commends speech that edifies. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says that Christians can either speak words that destroy or words that build, words that are given with a desire to build up the body of Christ or words that are wielded as carnal weapons of destruction (Ephesians 4:29). There is a difference, even, between verbal and written engagement meant to crush and winsome polemics meant to inform or rebuke.
So, is “speaking your mind” a Christian virtue? Not if “speaking your mind” implies unfiltered, uninformed foolish talk that hurts and destroys. Let’s pray for Holy Spirit power to seek after God in the way we use the gift of language and pray for repentance when our mouths reveal as-yet unsanctified parts of the heart.