I was taught this many times over as a kid, and whether your parents quoted much Scripture to you or not, I bet you were as well. Did your mama ever say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” Yes! I’m sure you could have filled in the blank even if I had left everything out after that comma! You may not have known it as Scripture…your mama may not have either, but the concept is still solid. Our words have power that we seldom acknowledge. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “the tongue has the power of life and death”. As a husband, father, teacher, coach and leader, I have learned the power (both good and bad) of my words. I have been commended for my words, and I have been ashamed of my words.
The point Paul here is making is that my words aren’t for me. I’ve aways understood that my words were better used when being used to build others up instead of tearing them down. However, I’ve always thought about that in relation to the people to whom I was speaking them. But here Paul says very clearly, that our “constructive” words may benefit those who listen. That’s not just those to whom I’m talking. We are overheard all the time. We are seen by people that we don’t know are looking. Paul is telling us that our words and actions can be used for the encouragement or discouragement of those bystanders as well — for building them up or for tearing them down.
Never is that more evident than in the world of athletics. As coaches, the way we treat our players or the referees is seen and overheard by many in attendance. As players, our responses to missed shots, strikeouts, bad calls, etc. can be witnessed by many that we wish weren’t looking or listening…but they ARE! As fans, we can act a fool! And for what? When we step back and look at our actions and words in the scope of eternity, I know that I wish I could change many of my words and actions.
God has given us all a sphere of influence. We are aware of some in that sphere, but many others we impact and don’t even know it. The question is, how are we impacting them?