When I was little, my parents used to tell me something when I would say something mean about my little sister: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Back then, that advice drove me absolutely bonkers. Looking back, however, it was pretty sound advice. Advice that should be followed today.
We all know people who can’t seem to say anything nice about others. It comes in different forms: gossip, insults, slander, anger, etc. They always seem to stir the pot. When drama rises, their words are like gasoline on a fire. All of us have been guilty of such speech. Some of us may still participate in such conversations.
Look at what the author of Psalm 141 writes in Psalm 141:2-4,
May my prayer be counted as incense before You;
The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.Set a guard, O Lord , over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing,
To practice deeds of wickedness
With men who do iniquity;
And do not let me eat of their delicacies.
Gossip and slander is sweet–we know something about someone before anyone else (regardless of if it’s true or not). Slander makes us feel good about ourselves (regardless if it has any basis in fact or not). The author of Psalm 141 asks God to guard his mouth so that he is not tempted to speak evil. That way, his words (specifically his prayers) are like sweet-smelling incense to God.
We must allow God to search the depths of our hearts and expose the evil thoughts we have about others (because our words find their origins in our hearts). What areas of conversation do we need to repent from? Do we need to think before we speak? Do we need to go to someone and ask forgiveness for evil speech against them? Do we need to erradicate evil speech from our lives and replace it with speech that builds up?
All of us need to work on these things. I guess my parents’ advice is still good advice. If you can’t say anything nice, just keep your trap shut.