No one ever got in trouble for saying mum. A tourist who spent the night in a small Vermont town joined a group of men sitting on the porch of a general store. After unsuccessfully trying to start a conversation a few times, he finally asked, “Is there a law against talking in this town?”

One of the men opened up and said, “No law against it, but there’s an understanding that no one speaks unless he’s sure he can improve on silence.” This is a practice Christians would do well to follow.

When there is nothing else to talk about, it is easy for us to, just for the sake of conversation, spread gossip, speak slanderously against others, or start rumor mills churning. This can cause a lot of damage, even when we are speaking the truth, because it can have the same effect as pouring salt on a wound to the person who is the subject of the conversation. The sting from such verbal injuries may cause trust to be broken, suspicion to reign, and relationships to be damaged forever — and the words can never be taken back. We don’t need to bring up a person’s sins or shortcomings to humor others. Instead, we should be looking for ways to either build others up (edify) with our words, or talk less.

Maybe you know a Christian who has fallen into sin and is no longer at your church. You may have an unsaved boss or co-worker who seems to enjoy pushing you to your limits. Do you talk about them to your friends, or do you tell God about them through prayer? Conduct yourself in a way that if your words were ever overheard by that person, they would bring healing rather than injury. And if you can’t think of anything to say, let mum be the word. It will keep you from more trouble than you can imagine.

Devotional by Dr. James A. Scudder