There is no rewind function on our words

by Gavin  

There is no rewind function on our words

I can clearly remember sitting in front of an old transistor radio trying to catch the Top 40 (of the time), while recording my favourite hits on an old cassette recorder.  Ja, I know… it dates me a little.  For those who are clueless… a tape recorders used rectangular cassettes, with 2 windy things, and magnetic tape.  It went round and round, recounting or playing stuff.  If you wanted to record, you could… just rewind, reset and you could record over what you didn’t like.  Kinda like a rewritable DVD… almost! 


That rewind and re-record function could obliterate mistakes.  Not so with our words.


Without flagellating her any more than has already happened, a South African realtor woke up this morning wishing that she had a rewind function.  She made some misplaced, racist comments on Facebook about the annual New Year celebrations on our South African beaches, and it has gone viral.  Without making light of the situation, she has discovered that rash words, even in text, are no monkey business.


I could blog on the racism issue – and there are probably biblical grounds to do that.  But our “Okes” group have engaged with David Platt on the Race issue through our “Counter Cultural” series, and it is crystal clear that this is a sin and reflects a heart that needs gospel change.  So I won’t go there today.


However, what was striking for me, and I offer it here as pastoral caution to our church, is the danger of rash speech – or writing.  Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media forums were not around in Bible times.  But methinks that the biblical principles governing speech could well be applied to written stuff as well.


It is very easy – and harmful – to speak foolishly. There is no rewind function on our words.  We can never truly take back what we say, as much as we might wish to from time to time.  Sometimes in everyday conversation we all speak without thinking – without weighing our words.  And in our age, that is not restricted to just spoken words – that which is typed and posted on social media or an e-mail can also be regretted.  By God’s grace, usually the impulsive speech of Christians isn’t full of wickedness and evil, but it certainly can be foolish.


Think about it: What causes us to react emotionally, rather than respond thoughtfully?


Hear the diagnosis from the Bible…


"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things." (Proverbs 15:28, ESV)


What is this proverb teaching?  I think it asks us all a probing question: “ “Is your speech and written words thoughtful and measured, or is it mostly a gushing, uncontrolled torrent?  Hmmm… If we had to record your conversations over a day, and then replay them, would your speech be considered as thoughtful and measured?  What practical steps can (and should) you take to “ponder how to answer” better?


Selvaggio summed it up as follows as he pondered Proverbs:


“Only the fool speaks in haste, without contemplating the potential implications and ramifications of his words. Only the fool has enough misplaced confidence in his or own wisdom to trust in the value of whatever unedited thoughts may come to mind.”


What principles can we draw out of that statement and use to examine ourselves?


But Scripture offers even more penetrating examination of the nature of words spoken rashly…


"The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse." (Proverbs 10:31-32, ESV)


"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense." (Proverbs 10:19-21, ESV)


"Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." (Proverbs 13:3, ESV)


"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding." (Proverbs 17:27, ESV)


So then, while we need to cautious about our words, we can also be hopeful.  God is eager to be at work in, and through us, as we speak.  As Paul Tripp summarises, in his brilliant “War of Words” :


  • “God has a wonderful plan for our words that it far better than any plan we could come up with on our own.
  • Sin has radically altered our agenda for our words, resulting in much hurt, confusion and chaos.
  • In Christ Jesus we find the grace that provides all we need to speak as God intended us to speak.
  • The Bible plainly and simply teaches us how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be.


For most of us, each day offers numerous opportunities to speak wisely, in matters small and great. That includes what we write in text form on the various social media platforms, where people – believers and non-believers – see and process. Are our spoken and written words reflective of the transforming power of the gospel within us, or do they reflect a heart which still oozes hate, prejudice and bitterness? Is what we say helping or hindering the gospel, and promoting the cause of Christ? Rash written words have caused a backlash against a South Coast estate agent today. She is being threatened, abused and facing criminal charges. Pray for her through this – to somehow see her own need of the gospel. Pray for those reflecting such blind rage as part of the response – they too need to encounter God’s grace. But let’s again learn from this – whoever guards his mouth (or fingers as they type) preserves his life.

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