How To Say The Right Thing At The Right Time
Dear brothers, don’t be too eager to tell others their faults, for we all make many mistakes; and when we teachers of religion, who should know better, do wrong, our punishment will be greater than it would be for others. James 3:1-2 TLB
Centuries ago the writer of Scripture said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). That is an interesting phrase, “apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Some think it referred to the lustrous beauty of the apricot amidst the bright foliage paled by the Palestinian sun. Others think that it referred to the beautiful craftsmanship of an apple of solid gold amidst the delicate setting of silver, and certainly, the proverb written in the days of the wealthy King Solomon could have meant just that. At any length, the writer is saying that the right word at the right time is indeed a beautiful thing.
Words are strange things. They boil over in our hearts and then when they spill out, they are forever part of the record. Have you ever said, “I take that back.” But you really cannot. The one who heard you say what you did can forgive you, but he still heard you say it and remembers it. Like the water that sinks into the sand, or the snowflake that melts in the river, or the breath of fog that dissipates in the sun, or the flower that has been plucked from the stem, once a word has slipped from your lips, it cannot be withdrawn.
Some have that rare and discerning gift of being able to say exactly the right thing at the right time. Among the few, was the late Winston Churchill. Apples of gold in pictures of silver–that’s what you could say about some of Churchill’s words. Do you know what he spoke to the British people about the heroism of the Royal Air Force at the battle of Britain? He said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” He said, “A thousand years from now, all the world will say this was Britain’s finest hour”—his words in his famous speech telling of the darkness of the hour confronting the British people
Few have that rare quality of human locution–being able to say exactly the right thing at the right time. There are ways, however, of learning to cultivate the habit of saying the right thing at the right time. Begin first with discipline. Usually, our greatest problem is lack of discipline. Much of what is said really shouldn’t have been said in the first place. “I feel like giving her a piece of my mind.” And you have said the wrong thing. Christ said, “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” (Matthew 12:36-37). The philosopher, Immanuel Kant, said, “All that one says may be true, but it is not necessary to say all that is true.” The book of James advises, “Don’t be too eager to tell others their faults, for we all make many mistakes” (3:1). So the first guideline is to learn to discipline what you say.
Guideline #2: Cultivate the habit of sharing a word of encouragement with everyone you meet. Dr. Peter Marshall, the gifted Scottish preacher, said, “A word of encouragement means more than we can possibly imagine. There is much in encouragement, a word of cheer to keep up morale, to give courage. There is much in our world which tears down and destroys. Learn to boost and build. A few words in a matter of haste can destroy a relationship that took years to build.”
Finally, learn to cultivate the word of testimony–sharing with others the goodness of God in your life. Do not boast but humbly encourage your neighbor to reach out to the divine strength of Him who knows no weariness.
Resource reading: Matthew 12:33-37