Four Questions to Guide our Words

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Words are powerful. The LORD God brought creation into being through words. “Let there be______. And it was so.” (Genesis 1). We have the ability to speak life or death into situations (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, we must keep a tight rein on our tongues (James 1:26).

Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of The Alpha Course and Vicar of HTB in London, offers three questions to guide our words. I have added a fourth. As we pass our words through the filter of these questions, our mouths become refreshing wellsprings of wisdom and revelation.

  1. Is it true? As Christ-followers we are called to honesty, accuracy, and integrity. Our words must embody truth. “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18, NLT).
  2. Is it kind? With our words we build up or tear down. Is our motivation to benefit the hearer, or is it to get something off our chest? “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
  3. Is it necessary? Is there a sense of urgency to avert danger or avoid a costly mistake? Perhaps it is essential to speak up on behalf of some else, or to highlight their positive achievements. Don’t use an opportunity to pridefully show off your knowledge. Instead determine necessity by being others-focused. “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
  4. Is the timing right? Is the audience able to give their undivided attention? Is there space to interact? If not, wait. Our words and the timing of delivery must both be right. “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11).

Our words are designed to make a difference. In our families and in the places we lead, our words can set the tone of honoring God and one another, creating an environment of health, respect, caring, learning, and thriving.