Hate speech, death threats, and name-calling have almost become a new normal. So, what is the answer to this? The Bible connects one’s talk with his or her character. We read in Colossians 3:8-10, “But now you also, put them all aside:anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech out of your mouth.” Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him”(emphasis mine). This is what we have in our culture today isn’t it – a lot of abusive speech.
Speech is a reflection of what is in the heart of a person. Hate speech is expressive of an attitude of hatred. Jesus taught, as recorded in Matthew 12:34, “…For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” We see then that what is needed is a character transformation. Romans 12:2 says to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
So, of course, the next question would be how one experiences a transformation of character that will lead to a transformation of one’s speech. The focus must be on love, forgiveness, humility, and compassion. But, does one just drum up these four attributes? Each one of them has a very broad application. After all, it seems easy to fall into hate, unforgiveness, pride, and lack of compassion, but difficult to pull out of them. People don’t have to work at being hateful, unforgiving, full of pride, or have a lack of compassion. While it is probably true that the majority of people do not consistently exhibit these negative traits, everyone has to give diligence and thought to living out love, forgiveness, humility, and compassion. And it is matter of choice, but either way attitudes will always be expressed in how one speaks. In other words, one’s speech reveals what is really inside a person’s character. People today who are expressing themselves with abusive, divisive, and hateful words, are doing nothing more than revealing their true character.
The Bible says that this can be reversed. Galatians 5:22-23 lists fruits of the Spirit. These are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” So, what does “fruits of the Spirit” mean, and how do they become manifested in one’s life? It refers to the Holy Spirit of God indwelling a person and producing these qualities. Now, that is not to say that people without God, even atheists, don’t have one or more of these traits. The average person probably tries to exemplify this kind of life much of the time. The point is that those whose speech is hateful, divisive, and abusive, can see a radical change in their character, and therefore, their speech also, if they choose to, and see a need to, by calling upon the grace of God to transform their hearts. God’s grace is available to each and every individual, whatever their race, culture, religion, or sexual orientation! God’s grace with the fruits of the Spirit makes it possible to rise above the culture in both character and speech. Romans 8:11 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives within you.”
Hate and abusive speech, and the attitudes that cause it, could be reversed to:
- “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
- “…put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Wouldn’t it be great, with a change of character on the part of many, to have speech that exhibits the following qualities:
“Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put devious lips far from you” (Proverbs 4:24).
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
“He who restrains his words has knowledge. And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27).
“…but let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).