Of the various people described in the Bible, one that I can relate to (in some ways) is Peter. I didn’t grow up as a fisherman, nor am I Jewish by descent, but I often say (and do) stupid things without thinking them through.
(In fact, I’ve tried to think of an example where I spoke without thinking, but all of the examples appear to be either too embarrassing, or are suppressed too deeply inside my memory.)
Let’s take a quick look at some examples from Peter’s adult life.
When responding to Jesus’ question about His identity, Peter makes a history-defining statement about who Jesus is, in Matthew 16:17-19. Then, Jesus rebukes Peter in front of the other disciples for a totally wrong statement that Peter makes next (see v.22-23).
At Jesus’ transfiguration, Peter was among the 3 disciples selected to join Jesus for this encounter with Moses and Elijah. Mark 9:5-6 confirms that Peter didn’t know what to say, and just said what came to mind.
Later, after Jesus had died, been raised from the dead, and ascended to Heaven, Peter was confronted with a message from God, explaining that the Good News about Jesus wasn’t limited to the Jewish people. Peter responded according to his upbringing – three times – despite God’s instructions (Acts 10:13-16).
In the preceding case, we might excuse Peter for at least sticking to what he had been taught (and what was appropriate for he and his people under the previous covenant). However, shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter demonstrates one of his brashest actions: In the Garden of Gesthemane, when a group came to arrest Jesus, Peter swung a sword and cut off the ear of a guy named Malchus (John 18:10-11; see also Luke 22:51). If Peter was trying to give the arresting squad a warning shot, he missed. If he was trying to do some real harm, I’m pretty sure that cutting off someone’s ear isn’t typically fatal. And, if he thought that he was going to overcome the entire opposition on his own, he was sorely mistaken.
With these examples in mind, we would do well to heed this wisdom from the Proverbs:
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Proverbs 15:28 NASB
So, think before you speak (and see also Proverbs 29:20). That simple step – maybe a moment to evaluate how your next statement will be interpreted, or a quick prayer to God to give you a wise answer – can make all the difference. And, sometimes it may be better to not say anything at all, at least at first.
Elsewhere in Proverbs…
The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom,
But the perverted tongue will be cut out.
The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable,
But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted.
Proverbs 10:31-32 NASB
The principle is pretty obvious: If we put fruits and vegetables in our shopping bag, we’ll have healthy food when we get home. If we fill up our cart with snacks, we’ll probably be nursing a stomachache within a few hours (at least with my limited willpower).
In the same way, we can fill our heart with good things, so that our speech reflects good things. Be good and our words will be good (see Luke 6:45).
I’m probably going to continue to struggle to not be like Peter: speaking before I think, and sharing my ignorance with the world around me. But, in the end, as Peter filled up his life with the teachings of Jesus, and allowed the Holy Spirit to direct his paths, he became part of the foundation of the early church. This Body of Christ changed the world in Jesus’ name, thanks to Jesus’ life-changing offer of salvation. I hope that I can be like Peter in that respect, and I hope that you aspire to the same thing.