Whether we wish to avoid it or not, we will all find ourselves embroiled in conflict. The fault may lie in a personal failure, or be purely circumstantial, but regardless of the cause, the time will come when harmony gives way to discord. And in such moments we need to decide what we are going to do, or more importantly, say. If history teaches us anything, it seems we are inclined to make a bad situation worse by saying the wrong thing.
Our guide to right speech comes in the unexpected form of Balaam, the Midianite magician. In Numbers 23 we are introduced to the man when he is employed to curse the Israelites, he blesses them instead. When his employer expresses his ‘buyer’s remorse’, Balaam makes it clear that his posture towards the Israelites cannot differ from that of God. He must model his stance towards these people on the one taken by God. So if God has chosen to favor these people, he dare not take a different position. If these are God’s enemies—cursing them is a simple matter. They are already under the curse. If these are God’s friends—he is going to seek their favor. Cursing those blessed by God is not smart, and Balaam is smart enough.
When we find ourselves in conflict with others we need to shape our response to mirror God’s. We need to spend less time nursing our anger or offence and more time asking, “What is God’s take on this?” Because whatever divine pronouncement is being made, our lips should be echoing it.
Knowing God’s posture towards others is no easy matter. Fortunately, Scripture demonstrates that the dominant posture of God towards people is one of grace. Consequently, grace should be the defining characteristic of our speech. All things being equal, our speech should bless others.
More infrequently, God puts aside his patience and announces his hostility. When sin and rebellion have ultimately reached beyond God’s patience, he exercises judgment. We know from Scripture that this happens when people tarnish His name, victimize the innocent, or tamper with his gospel. Such people will find God an imposing opponent. And they should hear the agitation of God in our voices.
When things go wrong and trouble brews, don’t be quick to speak. Give yourself a moment to reflect on God. Ask, “what does God have to say about this”, and when you have your answer, say it aloud.