“May the words of my mouth . . . be pleasing to you, O Jehovah.”—PSALM 19:14.
1, 2. Why does the Bible compare our ability to speak to fire?
IN 1871, a fire started in the forests of Wisconsin, in the United States. It quickly spread and completely burned about two billion trees. Over 1,200 people were killed. In fact, more were killed in that fire than in any other fire in the United States. It seems that tiny sparks from trains passing by the forest started the huge fire. This reminds us of a Bible verse: “See how small a fire it takes to set a great forest ablaze!” (James 3:5) Why did the Bible writer James say this?
2 He explains: “The tongue is also a fire.” (James 3:6) “The tongue” means our ability to speak. And just like a fire, what we say can cause a lot of damage. Our words can have a powerful effect on others. The Bible even tells us that what we say can bring life or death to them. (Proverbs 18:21) But does that mean we must never say anything just because we might say something wrong? Of course not. We would not stop using fire just because we might get burned. Instead, we are careful about the way we use it. For example, we can use fire to cook our food, to warm ourselves, and to have light. In the same way, if we are careful about the way we speak, we can use this ability to honor Jehovah and to benefit others.—Psalm 19:14.
3. What three things will help us to encourage others when we speak?
3 Jehovah gave us the ability to tell others what we think and feel, either by talking or by signing with our hands. So how can we use this wonderful gift to encourage others? (Read James 3:9, 10.) We need to know when to speak, what to say, and how to say it.
WHEN SHOULD WE SPEAK?
4. When should we be silent?
4 Sometimes it is good not to speak. The Bible says that there is “a time to be silent.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) For example, we keep quiet while others are talking to show we respect them. (Job 6:24) Also, we do not talk about things that are private and that other people should not know. (Proverbs 20:19) And when someone makes us angry, we will be wise if we try to stay calm and say nothing.—Psalm 4:4.
5. How can we show Jehovah that we are grateful to him for giving us the ability to speak?
5 But there are also times when it is good to say something. (Ecclesiastes 3:7) There is a time to praise Jehovah, to encourage others, to express how we feel, and to tell others what we need. (Psalm 51:15) And if we use our ability to speak in this way, we show Jehovah that we are grateful to him for giving us this gift. After all, when a friend gives us a beautiful gift, we want to use it in the best way possible.
6. Why is it important to choose the right time to speak?
6 Why is it important to choose the right time to speak? Proverbs 25:11 says: “Like apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time.” Golden apples are beautiful, but they would be even more beautiful when they are in front of a silver background. In a similar way, we might have something good to say to someone. But if we choose the right time to speak, we can help that person even more. How can we do this?
7, 8. How did our brothers in Japan imitate Jesus’ example?
7 If we speak at the wrong time, people may not understand or accept what we say. (Read Proverbs 15:23.) For example, in March 2011 an earthquake and tsunami destroyed many cities in eastern Japan. More than 15,000 people died. Although many of Jehovah’s Witnesses had lost family and friends, they wanted to use the Bible to help others who were in the same situation. But they knew that many of those people were Buddhists and knew little about the Bible. So instead of telling them at that time about the resurrection, the brothers comforted them and explained why such terrible things happen to good people.
8 Those brothers imitated Jesus. He knew when to keep quiet, but he also knew when to speak. (John 18:33-37; 19:8-11) And he waited for the right time to teach his disciples certain things. (John 16:12) The brothers in Japan waited for the right time to tell people about the resurrection. Two and a half years after the tsunami, they offered people the tract Can the Dead Really Live Again? Many took the tract and were comforted by what they read. We too should think about the culture and beliefs of people in our territory so that we can find the right time to speak to them.
We must be patient and find a time when people are willing to listen
9. In what other situations should we wait for the right time to speak?
9 In what other situations should we wait for the right time to speak? Perhaps someone says something that offends us. Instead of replying immediately and saying something foolish, we would be wise to stop and think: ‘Did he mean to be unkind? Do I really need to speak to him about what he said?’ It might be best not to say anything. But if there is a good reason to talk to him, we should wait until we calm down. (Read Proverbs 15:28.) Or it could be that we want to encourage our family members who are not Witnesses to get to know Jehovah. We must be patient, think carefully about what we are going to say, and find a time when they may be willing to listen.
WHAT SHOULD WE SAY?
10. (a) Why should we carefully choose what we say? (b) What way of talking must we avoid?
10 What we say can make others feel better or can make them feel worse. (Read Proverbs 12:18.) Many people in Satan’s world use “cruel words” that are like “arrows” or “a sword” because they want to hurt and upset others. (Psalm 64:3) Many learn to speak this way from the movies and television shows they watch. But Christians would not say anything that is harsh and unkind, not even in a humorous way. Humor is good and can make what we say more interesting. But we should never use cruel sarcasm, that is, say something that would embarrass or even insult someone just to make others laugh. The Bible commands Christians not to use “abusive speech.” It also says: “Let a rotten word not come out of your mouth, but only what is good for building up as the need may be, to impart what is beneficial to the hearers.”—Ephesians 4:29, 31.
11. What can help us choose the right words?
11 Jesus taught that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) This means that the things we say can show how we really feel. So if we love people and truly care about them, we will likely choose the right words to say to them. The things we say will be positive and encouraging.
12. What else can help us to choose the right words?
12 It takes effort to find the right words to say. Even though King Solomon was wise, he “pondered and made a thorough search” so that what he wrote would be correct and pleasant to read. (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10) What can help us to know what to say? We can look in the Bible and our publications to find new ways to express ourselves. We can learn the meaning of expressions we do not understand. We can also study the example of Jesus to learn how to speak in a way that will help others. He knew exactly what to say because Jehovah taught him “how to answer the tired one with the right word.” (Isaiah 50:4) It is also important to think about how our words will affect others. (James 1:19) We could ask ourselves: ‘If I say this, will the person understand what I am trying to tell him? How will he feel?’
13. Why should we speak in a way that is easy to understand?
13 Trumpet sounds were used in Israel to give signals. One of the sounds meant that the people should meet together. A different sound meant that the soldiers should attack. Just imagine what would have happened to the army if the trumpet sound was not clear! The Bible compares the clear sound of the trumpet to words that are easy to understand. If we do not explain things clearly, people may be confused or may believe something that is not true. Although we want to express ourselves clearly, we should be careful that what we say is not rude or disrespectful.—Read 1 Corinthians 14:8, 9.
14. What example shows that Jesus spoke in a way that was easy to understand?
14 Matthew chapters 5 to 7 are an excellent example of how Jesus chose words that were easy to understand. In the talk he gave, he did not try to impress people by using complicated or unnecessary words. And he did not say things that would hurt others. Jesus taught very important things that had deep meaning, but what he said was easy to understand. For example, Jesus wanted to assure his disciples that they did not need to worry about what they would eat each day. So he explained that Jehovah always feeds the birds. Then, he asked them: “Are you not worth more than they are?” (Matthew 6:26) With those simple words, Jesus helped them to understand an important lesson and to feel encouraged.
HOW SHOULD WE TALK TO OTHERS?
15. Why must we speak in a kind way?
15 How we talk to others can be as important as what we say. People enjoyed listening to Jesus because he spoke in a “gracious,” or kind, way. (Luke 4:22) When we speak in a kind way, people are more likely to enjoy listening to us and to accept what we say. (Proverbs 25:15) We will be able to speak to others in a kind way if we respect them and care about their feelings. That is what Jesus did. For example, when he saw a crowd making a lot of effort to listen to him, he was very happy to spend time with them and teach them. (Mark 6:34) Even when people insulted him, Jesus did not insult them back.—1 Peter 2:23.
16, 17. (a) When we are talking to our family and friends, how can we imitate Jesus? (See opening picture.) (b) How did one mother do a lot of good by speaking in a kind way?
16 Although we love our family and friends, we might say unkind things to them because we know them very well. We might think that we do not need to be careful about how we talk to them. But Jesus was never unkind when he spoke to his friends. When some of them argued about who was greater, he corrected them in a kind way and used an example of a young child to help them change their thinking. (Mark 9:33-37) Elders can imitate Jesus’ example by counseling others in a gentle way.—Galatians 6:1.
17 Even when someone says something that upsets us, we can do a lot of good by speaking in a kind way. (Proverbs 15:1) For example, the teenage son of a single mother was doing bad things while pretending to serve Jehovah. A sister in the congregation felt sorry for the mother and told her: “It’s too bad you have failed at child training.” The mother stopped to think and then said: “It’s true that things are not going well right now, but his training is a work in progress. Talk to me after Armageddon; then we will know for sure.” Because the mother stayed calm and was kind to the sister, they continued to be friends. Also, the son heard what his mother had said and realized that she still believed he could change. So he stopped going out with bad friends, got baptized, and later served at Bethel. Whether we are talking to our brothers, our family, or people we do not know, our words should always “be gracious, seasoned with salt.”—Colossians 4:6.
18. How can we follow Jesus’ example in the way we speak?
18 The ability to tell others what we think and feel is truly a wonderful gift from Jehovah. If we follow Jesus’ example, we will choose the right time to speak, we will be careful about what we say, and we will always try to be kind. So let us use our words to encourage others and to make Jehovah happy.