Guest poster, Emily Jennings, shares God’s thoughts on how to use your words.
I had prepared a jolly morning for my kindergarten Sunday school class (and was visibly proud of my effort). I brought sprinkles and marshmallows for our hot chocolate. I played Christmas music and set the table with heaps of crayons and nativity scene coloring sheets. I couldn’t wait to share the joy of Christmas with these little members of my church family.
As kids were coloring to the beats of “Little Drummer Boy,” one kid stood to his feet, tore his sheet to shreds, and flung the pieces over his head. Someone gasped. One kid jumped to his feet and pointed. Frozen with shock, I gaped as the remains of paper Baby Jesus floated to the floor like snow.
My assistant quickly realized I was unprepared for this. She calmly walked a trash can over to the boy and quietly told him to clean up his mess, sit down, and apologize.
Her response preserved Sunday school, a child’s dignity, and most likely, my credibility as a Bible teacher.
The Bible warns against words that are rash, careless, foolish, hasty, perverted, crooked, blasphemous, false, seductive, deceitful, slanderous, flattering, quarrelsome, vain, heretical, ensnaring, and backbiting.
The Bible says our words should be noble, gracious, prudent, righteous, wise, truthful, knowledgeable, judicious, apt, seasoned, excellent, sound, exemplary, good, and kind.
The Bible teaches that our words can heal, acquit, give life, break a spirit, break bones, kill, condemn, and set the world on fire.
If I passed all my words through these lists, I would need nine minutes to tell my husband dinner is ready. How can I possibly teach the Bible to 6-year-olds for one hour?
Learning and practicing the Bible’s instructions for our speech is a life-long project. Until we master them, the staggering volume of verses and striking imagery about speech communicates one big truth: words matter. Words matter because words have power.
No one has the bandwidth to measure all their words against Scripture. Ideally, we grow into the kind of people whose speech consistently reflects the heart, mind, and mouth of God. Until then, how should we speak? Specifically, how should we speak when we are teaching children?
There is a perfect starting point quietly hiding in the ocean of Scripture’s teaching about words: restraint.
Here are the nicer things I said in my mind (at full volume) that morning: How dare you destroy a picture of the Son of God and His mommy! Until every piece of Baby Jesus’ manger is glued back together, you will sit right here. He never got to enjoy hot chocolate with sprinkles, so neither will you, sir! Praise God I paused. My pause was not one of wisdom but shock. In hindsight, I realize the shock was God’s gift because it restrained my words. If not for that, I could have said something harsh.
Our culture does not value verbal restraint. Social media has uniquely conditioned us to despise it, rewarding quick wit, provocative takes, clever responses, being right, and hurting others. These patterns inevitably sow themselves into all our communication practices. Unsavory sins appall us and yet we’re often unfazed by bad speech habits. By and large, we haven’t seriously considered Scripture’s speech grid.
Proverbs affirms the wisdom of verbal restraint:
When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent. – Proverbs 10:19
Instead of championing good speech or condemning poor speech, the author radically recommends not speaking.
Verbal restraint isn’t always wise. If a kid runs into traffic, restrain nothing. This verse does not recommend a vow of silence. Rather, it’s the root of a modern saying: think before you speak. That’s wise advice! I would rather endure an awkward pause than shooting off a quick response I’ll regret later.
If you’ve never needed a pause while teaching children, it’s coming. There will be an inappropriate word, a hard question, shocking behavior, or a heart-breaking revelation. In these key moments, a pause is your ally.
Think of what a pause can accomplish. You can make sure you heard or saw something correctly. You can pray. You can think through an answer. You can check your emotions. You can choose a lower volume. You can catch a harsh word. You can remember a Proverb! The space between a good response and a poor one could be just six seconds.
We are called to teach children the Bible and reflect God’s character as we do so. How we speak is just as important as what we teach.
I’m praying to pause more this year, especially while teaching Sunday school. Only Jesus, the greatest Word, can change our hearts to produce words that reflect Him, even when a kid tears His picture to shreds.