“Gary,” my mother would say to me usually after an unpleasant verbal exchange with my sister. Those exchanges lasted into high school when I finally listened to my mother’s explanation. “The reason Karen pesters you the way she does is she’s proud that you’re her big brother and she’s trying to get your attention.” Recognizing that one fact forever changed my relationship with my sister.
But the lesson she repeated at least a thousand times was the lesson Thumper’s mother taught him in Disney’s classic animated picture, “Bambi.” She’d say to me, “Gary, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all!” (For those who need a reminder of that famous scene, click on the video clip below.)
She said it so often it nearly drove me mad. But looking back, I’m glad she kept at it! For when I became a follower of Jesus, I found what she said was not only motherly, it was intensely Biblical. Paul warned, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Jesus’ warning is even more severe. “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”
Then I became a pastor and I found that the bar has been set even higher for me. James warns me, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man able to keep his whole body in check.” In other words, the way to test your spiritual temperature is by examining your tongue. Are your words kind and true? If we are honest, we’ll admit, “Not always! For we all stumble in many ways.” And yet, now I have something even stronger than my mother’s voice ringing in my ears. I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit asking me when I say something unkind, “Was that good or necessary? Maybe you ought to apologize and try it again.”
So thanks, Mom! Thanks for holding me accountable and preparing me for the even greater ministry of the Holy Spirit. If my words are a blessing to others, I give much of the credit to you. (Now for an unforgettable example of the impact words can have on others, watch this short video called “The Power of Words.”)