The other day, I was watching a snippet from the movie 300; one of the best movies ever made. In the scene I was watching, King Leonidas addresses a Persian messenger. The Persians want to make a treaty with the Spartans to use their land and water for their armies. Throughout most of the discussion, the Persian does most of the talking while King Leonidas listens. Near the end of the conversation, the Persian messenger warns the king to choose his words carefully.
After a long conversation, where Leonidas does most of the listening, he leads the messenger, and his companions, to a giant hole in the ground. The king reflects on his land, his people, and his wife. He considers his choices and consequences, and with confidence and power, the king quickly draws his sword and points it at the neck of the messenger. King Leonidas responds by saying, “Earth and water; you’ll find plenty of both down there. You bring the heads of conquered kings to my city steps, you insult my queen, you have threatened my people with slavery and death. Oh, I’ve chosen my words carefully, Persian. Perhaps you should have done the same.” The Persian messenger then exclaims, “This is blasphemy. This is madness.” King Leonidas yells, “THIS IS SPARTA!” and powerfully kicks the messenger into the pit.
There are many things to learn in this scene, but I feel the most relevant lesson is to choose your words carefully. I am sure you have seen someone walk in with their head held high, with a cocky strut, and a look of arrogance. They came to make a statement. They tend to be someone who speaks a lot and listens very little. They think they have all the right answers, or they believe they deserve the respect of those they are speaking to. It’s as if they don’t even hear themselves speak, and the poison they spew has the adverse effect as intended. Their arrogance is their downfall.
King Leonidas’s response to the Persian messenger is also something we can learn from. Even though the Persian was arrogant and thought himself more superior, King Leonidas listened to everything he had to say. He allowed the messenger to keep speaking; allowing the messenger to dig his own grave. Leonidas was attentive to what the messenger was saying and took mental notes of every wrong word the messenger chose to speak. Leonidas waited for the Persian to finish before responding. He then took stock of the situation, reflected, and made a confident decision to defend his land, his queen, and his people. He spoke with assertiveness that commanded respect. He was sure of himself; not in a haughty or arrogant way, but rather more self-assured.
Scripture is filled with proverbs and commands concerning speaking and listening. James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (1:19). Ecclesiastes states, there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7). In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he stated, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). Proverbs states, “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame” (18:13). There is wisdom in listening before speaking and choosing wisely what words we use.
Don’t rush into a situation thinking you need to have something to say. Listen well and take note of what is being said. If what you hear is folly, either ignore it and say nothing, or address it with carefully chosen words. What we say has the power to destroy who we are. If we are to live a life of humility and integrity, we must choose wisely every word that comes out of our mouth. We must take pause before we respond. We must choose language that attacks the problem and not the individual. We must speak only words that we will stand by wholeheartedly. Never sacrifice your character just to have the last word. Speak truth and consider every word that comes out of your mouth.
I leave you with a quote from King David, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
- Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Don’t assume you need to always have something to say. Rather, listen intently to what is being said and speak only when necessary.
- Reflect before you speak. Just because you disagree with a post on Facebook or with what someone might have said in the store doesn’t mean you need to respond. Reflect on what you want to say and determine if it should be said.
- Own what comes out of your mouth. If you aren’t willing to stand behind what you say, shut up! Only speak that which you will stand behind wholeheartedly.
- Choose your words carefully. What you say has the power to destroy, not only the person you are talking to, but yourself as well.
As always, stay humble and serve well.