Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 (VOICE) Teacher: Watch your step when you enter the house of God. Be ready to listen quietly rather than rushing in to offer up a sacrifice to foolish people, for they have no idea that what they do is evil. 2 Do not be too hasty to speak your mind before God or too quick to make promises you won’t keep, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore, watch your tongue; let your words be few. 3 For just as busyness breeds restless dreams, so wordiness reveals the voice of a fool.
I don’t know if this happens to any of you, but there are times when I read a passage of scripture and it hits me like a gut-punch. It feels like it may, in fact, have been written specifically for me. This passage from Ecclesiastes is one of those passages.
If you are reading this, then you likely know that I have never exactly been accused of being quiet, and so to hear ‘watch your tongue; let your words be few’ feels like a bit of a shot spoken directly at me.
And though it may be hard for me and those of you who, like me, tend to think by talking, there is real and important wisdom in these words. The secular version of this message from Ecclesiastes is ‘better to be silent and thought a fool, then to speak and remove all doubt’.
One of the problems of speaking too much or speaking too quickly – without taking the time to really consider what you are saying is undoubtedly that we sometimes say what we don’t mean or make promises that we can’t or won’t keep. As God’s chosen ambassadors in this world we have a responsibility to carefully consider both what we say and how it will be received by those that hear it. Will our words invite people into a loving relationship with Jesus or push them away?
Another important thing for us to remember is that we don’t have to speak for God to know who we are. God knows what is on the inside. God knows our hearts and we ought to work carefully and diligently to ensure that our words reflect the character and contents of our heart.
Finally, I believe that part of the message for us here is that there is often an inverse relationship between the number of words we speak and the importance of what we say. The story behind President Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address is a wonderful witness to that.
Before Lincoln gave his, now famous, address Edward Everett spoke. Believe it or not, Everett was intended to be the headliner of the program. He was perhaps the most renowned speaker of his day and Lincoln, in contrast was not known to be particularly engaging.
Most of those gathered at the dedication of the cemetery on the Gettysburg battlefield would have been looking forward to hearing from Everett, who spoke first only out of deference to the office of the President.
Everett got up and spoke for over two hours. When he finished, Lincoln rose and delivered his powerful message in under two minutes. Today no one remembers anything that Everett said and almost all of us, more than 160 years later, can at least site the opening of Lincoln’s address.
Words, the words we use to share God’s love have power. But more isn’t necessarily better. Instead, consider carefully what you will say, ensure that what is spoken reflects your heart and is matched by your actions. This is how we share God’s love.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: Lord, still our tongues when we are tempted to speak. Guide us to listen first, to be led by your Spirit and always let our words reflect our heart and match our actions – and may all of them point others to you. Amen.