“If You Can’t Say Something Good”

By Frank Jamerson

Most of us have heard, and repeated the statement, “If you can’t say something good, then don’t say anything at all,” but most of us have also violated that advice.

A little boy told his parents: “When I get older, I want to wear glasses just like Granny’s because she can see so much good in a person when everyone else sees their bad. She can see what a fellow meant to do even if he didn’t do it. I asked her one day how she could see so good, and she said it was the way she learned to look at things when she got older. When I get older, I want a pair of glasses just like Granny’s so I can see good, too.”

The truth is that Granny had developed that ability through the years. We will all be what we are becoming. Not many people practice one thing and perfect something else. Attitude, the real inner being, is developed by a long process of development. We can develop a sweet or a sour disposition. Someone said, “A honey bee finds sweetness because he is a bee! A vulture finds the rotten because he is a vulture!”

Paul wrote the Ephesians that their “walk” (manner of life) had caused their “nature” to be sinful (Eph. 2:2,3). They were not born sinful, but had practiced it so long that it had become their nature. We are not “born critical,” but some develop that nature. We were not born gossiping, but some develop that nature. Our nature is the product of our intellect and will.

A columnist in the Dothan, Alabama Eagle wrote an article entitled “Keeping the mouth shut keeps troubles away from the soul” (which is found in Prov. 21:23). She told about a gossiper who said: “Early in life I developed a tendency to repeat things, anything – kids’ talk, home secrets, adult gossip overheard from behind doors. I suppose it made me feel important . . .

“As years passed, I realized how wrong I was. I tried to check the impulse to repeat what I heard. . . But I still gossiped. A few years ago something happened that made me take a good look at myself.

“I had been to a coffee party that sunbathed spring day. Then like a bomb thrown into the friendly chitchat, one woman said, ‘I heard that Elsie came to school dead drunk yesterday.’ Elsie was a pretty blonde high school senior. . .

“Two days later when I went to return a book that I had borrowed from a neighbor, I found her and two ladies I didn’t know mixing a huge bowl of salad. . . My old ‘repeatitis’ struck. I thoughtlessly blurted out the story of Elsie. Suddenly the room became very still. It seemed to me that one of the women turned pale. Later, a phone call confirmed my dreaded suspicion – the woman was Elsie’s mother.” That is called “hoof in mouth” disease, and it is epidemic!

There are several questions we should ask ourselves about the things we say – before we say them!

1. Is it according to Ephesians 4.29? “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear.” Filthy talk can never be edifying.

2. Is it according to Colossians 4:6? “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one. ” Our speech should be courteous and “seasoned” so as to prevent corruption.

3. Is it true? Paul said, “Lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings” (Col. 3:9). A lie may be told by telling part of the truth in such. a way ~s to leave the wrong impression. All lies have their origin in the Devil (Jn. 8:44).

4. Is it gossip? “A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Prov. 11:13). “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer (gossip, Lit. whisperer), strife ceases” (Prov. 26:20 NKJV).

5. Even if it is true, before you tell it, ask: (a) Why am I telling this? (b) Why do I want to tell it? (c) Will it do any good? (d) Would I want it told about me, or someone I loved? Here is a little poem, written by Edith Dahliby, taken from J.J. Turner’s commentary on the book of James:

If you have heard a bit of gossip,

I tell you what to do;

That before you tell another,

Just suppose it had been you.

Just suppose the latest scandal

Had been on your love, or you;

And only half the details,

Really had been partly true.

Circumstances strange and new,

All conspiring to mix-up. . .

Just suppose, my friend, ’twas you.

Would you wish folks to repeat it?

Or forgive . . . forget it, too?

So, before you tell another,

Just suppose it had been you.

James called the tongue “a fire” (Jas. 3:6). If you have ever been “burned” by another’s tongue, you know how it feels and ought to avoid inflicting that suffering on others. He also said, “It is full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8). The Psalmist said: “They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips” (Psa. 140:3). Not only can the tongue inflict pain, it can actually murder! “Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. . . If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Jas. 1:19,20,26).

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 23, pp. 713, 727
December 7, 1989