What a wise saying! If only we all would follow it. We don’t want to wear our feelings on our sleeves so that if someone just looks at us cross-eyed, we become offended. We also need to be conscious of the feelings of others and try not to give offence. There are times when we may have to say some hard things. It is important to say hard things in a kind and loving way. The words we choose, the tone of our voice, and even our body language speak volumes that others pick up and react to. We should be particularly careful with whatever we write because the words won’t be softened by our tone of voice. What we write should pass the same test as if we were speaking face to face — would we like to hear what we are saying? Some folks have written very harsh things in emails and the like, things that they would never say to anyone in person.
We need to remember that by our words we will be judged. The Lord was saying something hard when he said, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
So do our words, spoken or written, offend others? Solomon tells us, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” Jesus said, “It is impossible but that offenses will come”; then he continues by warning, “Woe unto him, through whom they come!” We need to take care that we speak at all times in a Christ-like manner so that even those who may be overhearing us, who may be young in faith or age, are not turned away. Jesus continues, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” Our words can stir up strife as well as offend others. Solomon tells us what God thinks of those who stir up strife. He says that God hates those who “sow discord among brethren”, and “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.”
If we are on the receiving end of someone else’s harsh words, we need to learn to be too big to take offense. The Psalmist tells us, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Part of loving our neighbor as ourselves involves being longsuffering and not easily provoked. Paul explains, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.”
So how do we live up to Abraham Lincoln’s remark? How can we be so noble that we will not offend, and so big that we will not take offense? Controlling our tongue is one way because, as James tells us, it can be full of deadly poison. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If we are full of love for our brethren and truly love them as ourselves, then we would not want to speak or write anything hurtful to them. Also, we would not stop loving them if they behaved badly toward us. Since we love them, we realize they are not perfect, and as fellow travelers on the road to the kingdom we know we all make mistakes at times.
Let us then strive to be too big to take offense and too noble to give it by loving our brethren so much that we think carefully before we speak. May our words be full of grace and truth, and may we be merciful to those who fail, giving thanks”To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”
Robert J. Lloyd