I’m becoming fascinated by the prominence the Psalms give to speech in their description of the righteous human life.
Take Psalm 15 for example:
A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
I love this description of the righteous person. In just five short verses we’re given a comprehensive sketch of the distinguishing characteristics of the person who enjoys fellowship with God.
But what’s even more amazing is that no fewer than four out of the ten characteristics mentioned have to do with how we use our lips!
Speaking truth from the heart. Not slandering. Not taking up a reproach against our neighbours. Standing by our oaths even when that’s costly and painful.
Evidently, our speech plays a load-bearing role in the righteous life.
This understanding is reflected in the top billing much of the Old Testament prophetic hope gives to renewed and purified speech. Think of Joel’s famous promise about all prophesying when the Spirit is poured out. Or the way Zephaniah 3.8-13 spotlights speech behaviour in its vision of Israel’s restoration and God’s final vindication.
All this makes for a compelling ‘backstory’ to the New Testament stress on the difference trusting Jesus makes to our speech — whether we’re talking about the detailed case study of how Christians should speak to each other when gathered together in 1 Corinthians 12-14 or the broader-brush stuff in Ephesians 4-5.
Ultimately, I even suspect it could help us connect the evangelical emphasis on God’s achievement in Christ — proving him righteous as he declares us righteous, etc — with the more typically charismatic/Pentecostal accent on God empowering us here and now — especially in terms of speech-acts like prayer, praise, and prophecy/words of knowledge.
If our understanding of righteousness was large — and biblical — enough to have speech stitched into its warp and woof, then maybe we wouldn’t have to choose between the two.