“You said what?”

Author Mark Twain quipped, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

He was addressing precision, emphasizing the nuance of a word, and while word choice is critical, its context and the conversation are just as important. Solomon put it this way, in Proverbs 25:11, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

At times we are so focused upon the “truth” part of our message that we neglect the “aptly spoken” part. We can learn to do better.

We are created in the image of God, the Master Communicator. His Son was “the Word made flesh” (John 1), the model of a word perfectly suited to its context. God, in Jesus, communicated the essence of Himself (Colossians 1), and that Word was spoken into the human race through the Incarnation: the ultimate word aptly spoken.

The message was so crystal clear that to see Jesus was to see His Father, as Jesus Himself explained (John 14:9). Likewise, Each of our words needs a proper setting in order to deliver the right message.

Because communication is first and foremost about relationship, a right word is aptly spoken when it is delivered in the right tone to the right person(s) in the right place at the right time. There is a time and place to deliver bad news, a way we comfort a woman newly widowed, and a calm, firm voice we need when dealing with a disobedient child.

Choosing the precise word, and waiting for the right time to say it in love is often more trouble than we want to take. Impatience and imprecision spark the conflagration of which James (3:5, 6) warns us.

Words are the easiest things to get, and the hardest to get right (James 3:2). Others know when we are venting rather than using carefully chosen, well seasoned words (Colossians 4:6). So do we.

Of course, some words are better left unsaid, and breathed silently to God. Sometimes four alarm fires can be extinguished with a smile. And come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever regretted hitting “delete.”

“Father, we rejoice in the gift of words that sets us apart from the animals. We pray that you would help our words be worthy of you and those you love. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

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