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September 6, 1996

Soothing Words Meant to Destroy

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My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart. PSALM 55:20-21
Controlled speech is good. If you’re in the middle of a heated meeting and you disagree with someone else, you are to be commended if you speak slowly and thoughtfully, refusing to fly off the handle and say things you might regret later.
Although it might seem so initially, that is not the kind of speech David is talking about in this verse. When he speaks of someone whose speech is “smooth as butter,” he’s describing a person whose speech says one thing but whose intentions are totally different. To put it in legal terms, it’s premeditated speech with the intent to do harm. This person speaks with a gentle smile and a soothing voice, but his words are meant to destroy. He’s learned that he can’t accomplish his dirty work if his tone of voice is angry and he has steam coming out of his ears. He has the ability to cloak his words in such a way that his listeners walk away smiling despite the fact that he has just plunged a dagger into their hearts.
People like this are self-controlled in an evil sort of way. They’re steady and careful, not impulsive. They leave you with the impression that they’re reasonable, but if you really listen to what they say, you realize that you totally disagree with them. This type of behavior often manifests itself in the workplace. Buttery speech often serves people well as they maneuver and manipulate their way up the corporate ladder.
We may not be able to read someone else’s intentions to determine if he’s drawing a sword or practicing genuine self-control, but we do know our own intentions and motivations. At the end of the day, we’re not responsible for someone else’s words and actions, but we are responsible for our own.
Have you been using buttery words to disguise a sword in your heart?

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