Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult, Peter insists (1 Peter 3:9), and while his letter may have been first delivered to people now long gone, his counsel about communication is as current as today’s tweets. For people whose Lord is called Word, words matter.
Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech (1 Peter 3:10).
Peter goes on to quote Isaiah, a prophet from an even earlier era, to drive home the point that how we speak has long been a topic of concern. In our day, then, when words so easily proliferate, we should pay heed every time we take the cap off a pen, tap on a keyboard, or open our mouth. What I am about to say (we should train ourselves to repeat often)–is it good? helpful? true? kind?
I went to high school overseas. The prevailing language there was English, but the dialect where I lived was sarcasm. A little later, when I got to college, I discovered that my dialect was not only difficult to understand, but also not highly valued. Eventually I learned new speech patterns, but not before causing some damage. Indeed, these old habits linger, and biting words still leak out. This, too: having learned that dialect, I’m tuned to notice others like it–like ‘bombast’, which is favored in certain neighborhoods of the Christian community. Nearly as popular as sarcasm, this one also makes me cringe.
Such language is out of place. Instead, we should always be prepared to give an answer. That looks like encouragement to make sure our data is ready to hand, our arguments polished, and our confidence honed–but try reading this line a different way. For prepared is a word from Jesus’ mouth, too, one He used in talking about where He was going, and what He was about to do there.
Prepared. The term implies thought, care, the conscious awareness that something is about to happen. Answer? This word expects the presence of others–those who ask (and, not to put too fine a point on it, notice also that answer is preceded by an rather than the). They are not targets, or foils, or fools, but people made and loved by God.
Peter offers us a way of seeing communication as an opportunity–not to win, but to connect. To that end, we prepare a welcoming, hospitable environment where others will be treated with gentleness and respect. With our words we can create (and isn’t this what the Word has also done?) a place people will want to visit, and where they will be at ease so that beneficial, enjoyable conversations might occur.