In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he tells believers, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Metaphors are often culturally-specific, so Paul means something different by Salty Speech than might be intuitive for us.
Saltiness here refers to seasoning (1). Salt makes food better. Our speech should make conversations better.
Scripture acknowledges that not everything true is always helpful in the moment. Proverbs commends the wisdom of knowing when to apply words to a situation: ”A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings” (Proverbs 25:11). The Westminster Larger Catechism makes the same point, stating that “speaking the truth unseasonably” is a violation of the ninth commandment (Q 145).
These two passages complement each other. We might prefer to be one-dimensional truth-tellers who are always providing the hammer of correction to every conversation we enter. Some behave this way thinking they are doing the Lord’s work. But sometimes the one-dimensional approach does more harm than good.
I’m not suggesting we substitute error for truth. I’m suggesting we learn that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Not every conversation needs my input. Not every error is mine to correct. Sometimes it is better to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11) than to speak into it. When we do speak, our contribution to the conversation should improve it. Our speech, even our correction or rebuke, should be redemptive in nature. It should suggest a better way forward rather than just complain.
If I stub my toe walking to bed at night, the last thing I want to hear at that moment is a reminder from my wife that if I had picked up my shoes, that wouldn’t have happened. She may be right, I wouldn’t call that timing helpful.
Christians of various persuasions who imagine themselves prophets contribute so much noise to already tense conversations. You hear it in what feels like every horrible yet familiar aftermath of a racial tragedy. Christians can say really hurtful and unhelpful things. Sometimes those things are true. But James tells us that what we might imagine as wisdom is demonic if lacking in gentleness (James 3:13–15).
How might we encourage rather than criticize? When might we stay silent rather than risk being unhelpful? Our ambition as we speak should always be to build up and encourage. If we can make that mental switch, our brothers and sisters will thank us.
(1) Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 382.
- Pray that God soften our hearts to be more gentle in our speech
- Pray for opportunities to encourage weary saints
- Pray that God gives us greater self-control and mastery over our tongues (James 3)