Do We Really Have Free Speech?

The debate rages on. Is free speech unlimited? Can anyone say anything and not be held accountable? What does God think of free speech?

In the news, we hear of “provocative speech.” We hear of “hate speech.” Many feel that it is a God-given right to be able to say anything to anybody. The fact is that in the United States, the Bill of Rights of the Constitution specifically allows for freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has protected and supported that freedom time and time again—no matter what was being said.

Yet some speech is very disturbing. Many of us would not agree with what some people are saying. However, if there is a limitation on what they can say, where is their freedom to speak? And even though people have the “right” to say anything they want—is it appropriate to say?

What does God think about all this controversy? He is the One who actually gave us the ability to speak and to communicate in the first place. No other creature on earth can do that.

The gift of speech

One of the most wonderful blessings God has given us as humans is that we can think and vocalize our thoughts to one another. We even have ears to hear and understand what is being said. Cows, horses or chickens can’t communicate like that. They can’t have a debate about farm life!

But just because we have been given the gift of speaking and talking, that doesn’t mean God is happy with whatever we say. We have to be cognizant of what God desires and what is acceptable before Him.

King David understood that concept, and He asked that his speech be appropriate before God: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Further, David knew that God heard everything he said. “For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4).

The prophet Isaiah was also very much aware of the impact of speaking rightly. He recorded the words of the Servant—the One who would come to earth as Jesus Christ: “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned” (Isaiah 50:4).

God speaks to us

Throughout the Bible, in over 400 verses, we see the phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” God’s words are the most profound in the universe. When God speaks, we need to listen. He has always had the freedom to tell it “like it is,” with no holds barred.

First, God reveals that He is the Creator. This answers the question about evolution. God said He created the universe—end of debate!

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other’” (Isaiah 45:18).

But just because we have been given the gift of speaking and talking, that doesn’t mean God is happy with whatever we say. We have to be cognizant of what God desires and what is acceptable before Him.Isaiah went on to record, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil’” (Isaiah 56:1-2).

We must be obedient to God. There is coming a time when God will intervene in world affairs. His salvation will come. Blessed are those who keep the ways of God, including the observance of the Sabbath, and refuse to do evil.

But many won’t listen to God, and history proves it. During the days of the prophet Ezekiel, notice what God told him to do and say:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Pound your fists and stamp your feet, and say, “Alas, for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence”’” (Ezekiel 6:11).

God told Ezekiel more things to say: “Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols.”’ Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations”’” (Ezekiel 14:4-6).

God’s words may not be politically correct in this day and age, but the great Creator God is telling us to repent and turn away from the idols in our heart. What are those idols? What are we placing before God? Could our ideas and thoughts be part of the problem?

Our responsibilities

Free speech is a great blessing to have. Where it is available, it allows the Church of God to have the clear and unlimited ability to carry out the responsibility to “cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).

God cries out to the world to change its ways. The Church is to follow that example, yet it also is to follow the example of Jesus Christ when He told His disciples: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Christ also tells us, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

The apostle Paul advised Titus to have “sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (Titus 2:8).

Paul later advised the Colossians: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).

King Solomon also gave the following guidance in Proverbs 15:2 and 4: “The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. … A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”

Turn from evil and do good

Finally, notice what the apostle Peter advised: “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10).

Free speech is a blessing, but how we use that blessing matters. Let’s do our part to “turn away from evil and do good … seek peace and pursue it” (verse 11).

Read more about communicating God’s way in the other articles in this “Communication” section.

About the Author

John Foster

John Foster

John Foster grew up in the Chicago, Illinois, area and began attending the Church of God with his parents in 1958.

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