If anyone is a student of history, you probably have heard of this phrase. It was coined by the US Office of War Information during World War II in an attempt to keep people from sharing useful information to spies who would be listening to casual conversation. The idea was careless words, i.e. loose lips, would undermine the war effort, i.e. sinking of ships. The British version was “Careless Words Costs Lives”. There were enemy agents that gathered useful information from unsuspecting citizens who shared important details that was then used against the allies. Thus, the charge was to be careful what you talked about, especially in places that others may be listening. The things that you said could be used for nefarious purposes.
The concept of those phrases still holds true to this day. Careless speech can have detrimental effects, in a myriad of circumstances. Many embarrassing situations have been created by a careless phrase, friendships have been impacted, children hurt by a word spoken in anger and the list could go on and on. Our speech is a gift from God. Of all the creatures made by God, only man has the ability to communicate in such detail through the spoken word. When God created man, He made him in His own image and that included the ability to communicate at a high level. This ability included the spoken word. When one looks at the various languages in the world, we see incredible complexity. Languages are varied and each one has its own unique system of communicating concepts, both concrete and abstract. Some of the most complex languages are spoken by the most technologically primitive people on the planet. Yet in each case, God desires the use of words to be that which builds others up rather than tearing down.
Ephesians 4:29 states, “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.” Also, Ephesians 5:18-19: “And do not get drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.” In both these passages the emphasis is on the spoken word. Each time a word passes our lips, it should be for the benefit of others and be guided by the Spirit of God. That’s a tall order! So, I have to ask myself a question: is what I’m about to say useful or destructive? What about when I just want to “get it off my chest” or I’m “just venting”? This is not to say we shouldn’t be able to talk with a close friend or our spouse, but even there we must control our tongue.
Recall the first part of the phrase previously quoted. “Loose lips” that is, words that are carelessly flung about without any thought to the consequences. How often do I speak before engaging my brain? Am I aware of what I’m saying and how it can be perceived or received? This means we must be aware of our speech and the context in which we speak. We are the ones who are responsible for what we say, and what we say can cause harm regardless of what the children’s rhyme may imply – “sticks and stones…”