Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips. –Ps. 141:4
This verse from Psalm 141 (140 in the Septuagint) is something we sing every vespers, but I always hear it in my mind to the music of the Bortniansky Trio which is sung at the PreSanctified Liturgy in Lent. But whatever the music, the text conjures up a vivid picture of a watchman at the gate.
The watchman’s task is not to cement up the gate and make it into a wall; rather, he allows in and out those who have a right and reason to be in the city or to go forth from it on business. He stands guard against the entrance of enemies who attack openly or by subterfuge…and also prevents the escape through the gate of those enemies who we thought were under lock and key in the city jail, but who have somehow wormed their way out and are at large on the streets.
What sort of words should or should not be allowed into the city of our hearts, allowed or not allowed to escape through the door of our lips? Scripture mentions several different examples of each—here are a couple:
v Falsehood is to be laid aside, Truth to be spoken
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:25 Remind them…. to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-15
v Unwholesome words are to be kept from escaping, but words for edification allowed out Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
v Complaining and murmuring should not be allowed to wander freely in your conversation Do not complain, brethren, against one another, James 5:9
And some more:
v Crude and offensive vocabulary
v Violent or ill-intenioned words
v Ill-speaking against others
–all the above as per Colossians 3:8 ESV But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Most of the things we should and shouldn’t say fall into these categories, though they may be described in detail in various ways.
James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
And St. Theophan says
“When you have to speak, before expressing what has entered your heart and letting it pass to your tongue, examine it carefully; and you will find many things that are better to not let past your lips. Know moreover that many things, which seem to you good to express, are much better left buried in the tomb of silence.” (Ch. 24, Unseen Warfare)
This topic is really much too big to deal with in a single blog post. The Scriptures and the Fathers have a great deal to say about it. But as this is a clergy wives’ blog, I will just suggest we think about how we in particular need to guard our mouths. Think ahead about what sort of enemy words may try to escape our lips. And remember that ‘out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.’ A good heart will be the best protection against bad words. I leave you with this thought:
“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”– Dorothy Nevil