Lesson 2 – Constructive Speech
Titus 2:3-5 (NASB)
Older women likewise are to be
reverent in their behavior,
not malicious gossips,
nor enslaved to much wine,
teaching what is good,
so that they may encourage the young women
to love their husbands, to love their children,
to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind,
being subject to their own husbands,
so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
Are you guilty of gossip?
- My lips are sealed!
- Sometimes I let slip a secret
- I’m quick to share an intriguing scrap of a story
Don’t be fooled by the word translated as gossip. It goes beyond a group of ladies sharing coffee and critiquing someone else’s behavior or clothes. The original Greek word is diabolos, meaning diabolic or destructive. It is the root of our word Devil. Literally, it means someone who “casts through,” that is, someone who makes charges that bring down and destroy.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – not so! Almost everyone remembers a hurtful comment from childhood, face-to-face or overheard, which has impacted their behavior through the decades. As adults, we are still stopped short by a nugget of gossip about us, true or false, that makes the rounds of our acquaintances.
My young son selected school shoes; he liked the look and I liked the price. A few weeks later tattered old sneakers became his footwear of choice. Another student had commented, “those look like girl shoes.” I asked if this was a person with a great sense of style. It was not. It wasn’t even someone he liked or respected. Nonetheless, those words drove his behavior.
Our words have the power to reroute someone’s feet. As Titus 2 women, we must not leave a trail of diabolic words.
The book of Proverbs offers sage advice regarding our words:
Proverbs 10:11 (NASB)
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,
But the mouth of fools spouts folly.
Proverbs 17:4-5, 9, 15, 27-28
An evildoer listens to wicked lips;
A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker . . .
he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends . . .
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord . . .
He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
These passages follow the Hebrew rules for poetry—two lines, the second a restatement of the first. Most of them set up a contrast: bad speech (violent, angry, rash, foolish, wicked, evil) versus good speech (full of life, healing, acceptance, knowledge, understanding, prudence).
In the New Testament, James is blunt—our words bless, or our words curse. Words that curse are poison; they destroy. They are the enemy’s words and in opposition to God.
James 3:6, 8-10
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell . . . But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
Paul explains speech that blesses, speech that offers grace:
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
“Seasoned with salt.” Not bland, not artificially sweet. Truthful and memorable, appropriate and appealing. People will want a second helping of this conversation.
Jesus is our example in word and deed. Jesus was honest, sometimes even blunt (“you are like whitewashed tombs,” Matthew 23:27). But his words are sinless, without self-serving motives. His speech inspires his hearers to soberly reflect on their ways and turn to God—worthy goals for our own words.
“Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.”
(from Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes)
Titus 2 speech should include neither flattery nor gossip. It does include genuine compliments and gentle admonition.
As Titus 2 women, we strive to speak fewer diabolic words and more blessings.
There is no better way than prayer to speak blessings into our world. In conversation with people, we offer encouragement for the moment. In conversation with God, we speak blessings into the future.
I have a vision of prayer that has a basis in Scripture:
The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Our prayers don’t fly up to God’s ear and dissipate. He values our prayers and collects them in golden bowls.
Perhaps there is a bowl for each individual, a bowl engraved with their name, that holds all the prayers ever offered on their behalf. When you pray for someone, your prayer is held in that bowl as a sweet fragrance before the Lord. Your prayers are mingled with every other prayer uttered on that person’s behalf. My view may strike you as fanciful, and it may or may not be accurate.
But imagine this: God holds every prayer ever offered for you in a golden bowl, and those prayers exude a continual sweet aroma before God. Perhaps the bowl holds words from a great-grandmother who prayed for offspring not yet conceived. The bowl contains the “God, help us!” your mother screamed at your birth. Prayers from your teachers and neighbors, the blessing offered at your marriage, prayers for healing when you were sick, prayers of complete strangers, even your own petitions for yourself are safely captured and contribute to the scent of glory in the halls of heaven. Doesn’t this make you feel forever blessed?
Fill those bowls! Be ever more inspired to pray. Add the mercy-drop of a quick prayer for the impatient guy who cuts you off in traffic. Add to the bowl of your troubled co-worker. Pour gallons of heartfelt agony over a wayward child. Add a teaspoon of incense to the prayer bowl of a minister or missionary. Sprinkle sweet aroma in the bowls of the new baby, the high school graduate, the new bride. Fill bowls for which you have no names—future offspring, their future spouses, next year’s teacher, the boss of the job you don’t yet have; God knows who they are, your prayer will make it to the right bowl.
And as Titus 2 women, pray into the bowls of the dear ladies God calls you to teach and those God calls to teach you.
Our prayers are held in eternity before the throne of grace. Perhaps our words have similar staying-power here on earth.
As a hearer, surely there are words you treasure and others that you wish you could forget. These are words that changed your life—for better or for worse.
Likewise, words from your mouth are held long and close by others—for better or for worse.
Imagine that all the words out of your mouth were preserved and swept into a single pile. Sort those words into two categories: destructive (diabolic) words and constructive (helpful) words. How hard would it be to decide which words go in what category?
Some decisions are obvious—cruel words uttered in anger go in the destructive pile, no question. And there are words of encouragement clearly destined for the constructive stack. But thousands of words are in question.
This familiar passage flows easily and often from our lips:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Herein is our guideline: the words that are “acceptable in God’s sight” are filed under constructive. Anything that is not acceptable in God’s sight goes into the destructive pile. It is sobering to consider how many of my words spoken through the years fail to meet the “acceptable in God’s sight” standard.
Don’t assume that acceptable words are limited to positive praise. God’s standard will include some words of reproof (appropriately delivered). Looking back at our Proverbs passages, we see that acceptable words heal; true healing can flow from painful words that cut to the source of sickness. We are reminded that excusing the wicked is as diabolic as wrongly accusing the righteous; truth delivered in love is acceptable in God’s eyes. Words that provoke thought on the hearer’s part are often acceptable to God, pushing others into their own conversation with him.
A disciplined Titus 2 woman maintains her conversation with God while she speaks on earth, continuously asking “are the words of my mouth acceptable in your sight?” This simultaneous listening and speaking is a learned skill—the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Our ultimate goal: no more diabolic speech.