How Can We Have Peace with Self?
We use speech to communicate with the people in our lives. This is one way whereby others can know what is in our hearts. Paul asks the question: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). No man knows what goes on within you unless you reveal it. Otherwise, he must guess, or attempt to “read between the lines.” No matter how closely people are associated with you, or related to you, they cannot know clearly what goes on within you unless you communicate with them. To the extent that you reveal yourself to a person, to that extent he has a true picture of you. God said, “…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). Man is limited in what he can know about you–limited by what you will reveal. However, “The LORD looks at the heart.”
Knowing this, David prayed: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Again, David set proper speech as a goal for his life when he said: “I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.” (Psalm 17:3).
How should we speak to one another? The story of Joseph provides us with a good example. His brothers, who despised him and determined to get rid of him, sold him into captivity. Joseph, however, achieved a place in Egypt second only to the king. When a time of famine came, he was given charge of distributing food. His brothers also had to go to him.
They were greatly concerned when they discovered Joseph’s identity. They went to him, asking for mercy. This was Joseph’s answer:
“Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).
Comforting, kindly words–backed by appropriate action, and based on Joseph’s faith in God, not on the behavior of his brothers–what a relief this must have been to them!
Children need to be reared in an atmosphere of kindly words. To illustrate, a small child had accidentally spilled her milk. She looked anxiously up at her mother, who quietly said, “You put your glass too close to your elbow, didn’t you?” One could see the relief on the child’s face because of the kindly treatment she received, because of the understanding words spoken by mother, who recognized that this was an accident. Her words were meant to teach the child how to avoid repetition of the accident, not to cause a scene.
Later that same evening, however, the same child was reluctant to go to bed. Quietly, but firmly, the mother said, “You are to go to bed!” The child still did not go, so mother took her by the arm and firmly directed her toward the bedroom. One could see the child stiffen, and then give in as mother continued, “You need a good night’s sleep.” One is reminded of the proverb: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1). This mother set the tone in her family by her soft answers that issued from a kind heart, again backed by appropriate action.
Pleasant words, kindly words, a soft answer, a wholesome tongue, simplicity, godly sincerity, gracious words, pleasing God with our words, sound speech–these are terms used in the Bible. (See, for example, Proverbs 15:4; II Corinthians 1:12; I Thessalonians 2:3-5; Titus 2:7-8.) Is it not obvious that such conversation is necessary if we are to have good relations with others?
A child was given to much screaming. The annoyed parent’s response was a scolding demand: “Stop screaming!” or, “You embarrass me the way you act!” He was screaming at the child to stop screaming. Without realizing it, he was providing the example for the child. Once he became aware of the power of his own example, and began speaking to the child as a gentleman should, he began making progress toward quieting the child.
On the negative side, the Bible cautions us to speak evil of no man, to put away a froward mouth (that is, “crooked speech”) and perverse lips, to refrain from whispering, flattery, lying, and tale-bearing. (See Titus 3:2; Proverbs 4:24; 16:28; 26:20, 28.) The truth of such verses as Proverbs 26:20 is obvious: “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.”
Recently a newspaper columnist reported a conversation with a taxi driver. He said he had just taken two women to a hotel. He had picked them up in the suburbs, and all the way to town they were talking about two other women who were to meet them in front of the hotel for a cup of tea. “If those two other women had been standing at the curb without a stitch on, I wouldn’t have been surprised,” he said. “My fares had stripped them down to their very souls during that ride.”
“Don’t misunderstand me,” one of the fares was saying. “I love Margaret, but …. ” After that, Margaret emerged as about the most despicable female since Lady Macbeth. The other fare said she knew all this and she, too, loved Margaret as well as Lynn, for whom she’d do almost anything in the world. “But,” she continued, “it stands to reason that Lynn can’t be any better than Margaret since the two are so thick, and everybody knows that birds of a feather flock together.”
When the cab reached the hotel, the two fares got out, rushed up to the two women standing under the marquee, hugged them, and squealed: “Darling, you look wonderful!” “Oh, what fun to see you again!” And there were more fond embraces.
How different such a conversation is from the standard that is set by Paul! “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Our goal, then, as Christians, is to avoid the kind of communication that does not edify, but to speak those words that are constructive. How could the two women in the cab benefit from their destructive criticism? In the privacy of each one’s soul there must have been a sense of unwholesomeness.
“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13; compare Proverbs 17:27-28; 2 Timothy 2:16; James 1:19).
One step toward inner peace and a sense of personal wholesomeness has been taken if you are able to review the day, knowing that your speech was acceptable to God because you have used words that edify and satisfy.