ORAL HYGIENE (or “VERBAL SNIPERS”)

Neal Pollard

Routine teeth cleaning can be pleasant, but cavities, extractions, and root canals, from what I hear, are less than thrilling.  No matter how well you think you are doing with “home care,” the dentist will always have suggestions for how you can improve your “oral hygiene,” from flossing and regular brushing to avoiding certain types of food (i.e., sugary and staining stuff).

But, how is our spiritual “oral hygiene”?  Sometimes, we equate such with abstaining from profanity and vulgarity.  But, doesn’t God expect more?  Growing up in the church, I have preserved in my mind a “Hall of Fame” of people who have filled their speech and words with encouragement, truth, gentleness, and thoughtfulness.  They brighten the lives they touch, altering them for the better.  However, I have seen too many Christians in every congregation I can remember whose speech is rotten and decayed.  Ironically, they often are those who faithfully attend and are generally morally and ethically upright.  Yet, they have slipped the bridle off their tongue to the harm and detriment of others.

Neither one’s age, perceived position and importance, nor tenure in a congregation entitles him or her to riddle others with verbal bullets.  Insults, discouragement, destructive criticism, loveless rebukes, railings, and the like have proven stumbling blocks to many visitors, new Christians, weak Christians, or others who are spiritually vulnerable.  I cannot count the specific number of times I have tried to help these wounded ones pick up the pieces after razor-sharp comments made by thoughtless brothers and sisters who ought to know better.  The offenders may not have any idea of the havoc they cause, but I am certain that some will be shocked and astonished at the judgment.

Jesus taught that “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” and “that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt. 12:34b, 36-37).  What do we think James means when he says that the tongue “is set on fire by hell” (Js. 3:6)?  The kind of speech referenced above is certainly not ignited by heaven!

Please consider that your speech is a direct reflection of the content of your heart!  Be mortified at the thought of a word of yours causing anyone to stumble and fall!  However important or unimportant you believe yourself to be, realize the potential harm or good you do simply by what you say.  Am I talking about your speech?  Well, ask if your speech is “with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), wholesome, edifying, needful, and gracious (Eph. 4:29)?  If it is not, please keep it to yourself!

Let us remember the words Will Carleton wrote in “The First Settler’s Story”:

Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds;
You can’t do that way when you’re flying words.
“Careful with fire,” is good advice we know
“Careful with words,” is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead;
But God Himself can’t kill them when they’re said.

5 thoughts on “ORAL HYGIENE (or “VERBAL SNIPERS”)

  1. Donnie

    Great article, Neal! There’s a phrase in Eph. 4:29 that has always intrigued me and one that I have always emphasized when teaching this point, or that passage: “…according to the need of the moment…” That means that before we speak, we are commanded to think…think what word is needed to edify in that moment. Again, great job!

    Donnie Bates

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