Is “If You Can’t Say Something Nice…” Biblical?

Have you heard, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” While this adage provides a reminder to not gossip, is it biblical?

Our family met a delightful woman in Switzerland who offered to show us around. We traveled in two cars. I rode with our new friend, and my family followed. Instead of raving about the beauty of the Swiss Alps my companion began to sing the praises of the person who’d maligned our family and other Christian leaders.

I couldn’t believe it.

Thousands of miles away from home and I had to listen to someone unwittingly praise my enemy. And worse, she encouraged others to follow this deceitful leader. Having been raised on the above adage, I prayed as I went back and forth on how to respond.

We forgive a wrong doer and hope the memory of our hurt will evaporate like morning dew in sunshine. But if the person who caused our pain doesn’t change and continues to work, worship, and live around us, we have to learn how to cope with them and respond to those bewitched by their charm or talent. These people’s naivety can rewound us and lead others astray.

Some people, recovering from the attack of an evil influencer, dream of moving away from their pain to avoid these encounters. But as I realized that day in Switzerland, there is nowhere to run. It’s better to face it head on and let God use it—and you—for His purposes.

So how do we respond when people trust someone we know to be wicked? Do we speak up when someone wants to hire a person we know to be irresponsible? Should we follow the opening adage and say nothing? If we’re silent when others applaud this person, do we mislead them or set them up for harm? If we speak up, are we bitter and judgmental? What should we do?

Should I Look for What’s Nice or What’s True?

Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NASB).

In our series we’ve looked at how forgiveness frees us to make wise decisions unspoiled by bitterness and allows us to heal from our injuries. But old wounds may still throb when people minimize the harm of an evil doer.

Some fear this discomfort means they haven’t forgiven. Feeling disturbed is not the same as being bitter (Romans 12:9; Hebrews 12:15). God is righteous and feels indignation each day (Ps. 7:11). And showing good judgment doesn’t make you judgmental.

In an effort to avoid appearing critical, I’ve heard people ask God to help them see only the good in their enemy. That sounds noble, but Jesus tells us not to throw pearls to pigs. “If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). How do we recognize these people if we ignore their swine-like traits?

Should I Say Something Nice or Be Kind?

Forgiveness releases the offender to God who promises to deal with him/her (Romans 12). But it doesn’t toss out the need for shrewdness. The Bible uses yeast to illustrate the pervasive influence of evil. A small amount packs a big punch. If you are a shepherd, you not only need wisdom to protect yourself, you must also protect those in your charge.

Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matt. 7:15 NLT). Some of these wolves had performed miracles in His name. Jesus called them wicked (Matthew 7:15-23). He wasn’t being unkind; He was being the Good Shepherd.

I counseled a young woman whose youth pastor tried to rape her. You can imagine how this shook her faith in God and the church. Here’s the kicker. When her church leaders dug deeper into the assailant’s past, they learned he’d committed a similar crime at his previous church. The leaders of that church chose to “forgive and forget” because the culprit promised to never do it again.

By following the “If you can’t say something nice” adage, these leaders clothed this wolf with pastoral authority and released him into the church to devour God’s sheep. That’s not love; it’s treachery.

By following the “If you can’t say something nice” adage, these leaders clothed this wolf with pastoral authority and released him into the church to devour God’s sheep. That’s not love; it’s treachery. #wisdom Click To Tweet

So back to our original question, is it ever appropriate to speak when what you have to say about someone isn’t nice? Do we tell our family, “Don’t leave your children with Uncle Harry because he abused me when I was a child”? Or do we warn, “Think twice before partnering with Frances. She has a history of mismanaging funds”?

Saying something nice isn't nice if it harms innocent people. #SpeakTruth Click To Tweet

Biblical Tips on When to Speak

  • Consider your motive. If your motivation to speak is revenge, take time with God until you desire to “speak the truth in love.” If the desire to be quiet comes from self-protection from possible fallout, consider God’s warning in Ezekiel 33:1-9.
  • Reverse roles. If you were in this person’s place would a warning protect you? If someone asks for your opinion or if your knowledge could spare them from harm, a warning may be appropriate. Even though no one enjoys learning someone may not be what they appear, those spared from suffering will be grateful.

Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).

Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV). #Kindness Click To Tweet

Paul warned his friends in the faith. “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, but the Lord will judge him for what he has done. Be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said,” (II Timothy 4:14-15, NLT).

God leads those willing to obey. Wisdom and love show us when to be silent and not give what is holy to those who are unholy (Matt. 7:6) and when to speak (Eccles. 3:7). When we speak, a simple warning like Paul’s, that doesn’t rehash the details or stir up the past, should be enough.

My trip to Switzerland taught me I can’t run from pain, but my experience may save someone else from harm. When we keep our hearts clean, His gentle nudge will guide us.

Add your thoughts here.



How Do I Love My Enemy?

How to Rebuild Broken Trust

The forgiveness blog series begins here.

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  1. Ann Musico

    This is powerful and beautifully thought out. This is a sticky issue for many of us and I think you clarified it wonderfully. Thank you, Debbie.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, it is sticky, and we need the wisdom and guidance of God to apply to individual situations. Blessings to you, my friend.

  2. Marcia Gunnett Woodard

    Thank you for this word, Debbie. It is very timely for me. Just last night, I was talking with a friend about the 2020 election, and I a mentioned a character flaw that I have observed in one of the wannabe candidates. The person that I was talking to told me that as a Christian, I shouldn’t say anything like that, even if was true. They even played the “If You Can’t Say Something Nice….)” card! Thanks for the info and the help it in future discussions!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Oh my! Talk about timing. Thanks for sharing, Marcia.

  3. Julie Zine Coleman

    This is great, Debbie. And so needed. As Christians, we have been trained to think that it is the spiritual thing to do to let offenses go. While sometimes that is appropriate, sometimes it is not. Speak the truth in love. But speak it. Too much has gone on in the Church (like the example you cited) and has been swept under the carpet. What we are doing in reality is actually enabling the offender to continue. And have placed others under their influence to hurt more.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Julie, isn’t that the sad truth. Jesus certainly spoke the truth. That actually is the most loving way to address actions that can be changed or harm others.

  4. Melissa Henderson

    What an inspiring message! Our words matter. I am thankful God nudges me when to speak and when to stay silent. I wish I always listened to Him. 🙂

    • Debbie Wilson

      Melissa, LOL. Me too. Especially the part on when to be quiet. 🙂

  5. Julie Lavender

    Thank you, Debbie! Your wise words provoke much pondering! And I love how you’ve backed it all up with scripture – makes it so easy to understand, since the whole “be nice or say nothing” isn’t scriptural at all! Thanks!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Julie, isn’t it something the things we grow up believing without question?

  6. J.D. Wininger

    Well said Ms. Debbie. How we handle those we disagree with truly sends the message of what is our hearts ma’am. Great post! Sometimes “70 times seven” is not the response God wants us to offer. Sometimes it’s delivering a hard truth that needs to be heard.

    • Debbie Wilson

      J. D., we’ve been told tolerance shows love and forgiveness. Jesus shows real love and forgiveness, and yet He still confronts sin. A paradox until we realize how deadly sin is. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Tammy L Kennington


    It’s imperative that we not confuse truth and forgiveness. Thank you for this powerful post in age when tolerance has created shadows between the two.

    Peace and grace,

    • Debbie Wilson

      Amen, Tammy! Thank you.

  8. Jimmie Kepler

    You gave me something to ponder. Well said and I needed to hear your words.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Jimmie, wresting myself with this and helping others in the same position helps you notice what the Scripture says.

  9. Lisa notes

    This is good clarification, Debbie. “Nice” isn’t always what we think it is or always the preferred thing. We need to put more thought into it. I appreciate your thoughts here.

    • Debbie Wilson

      You’re right. Lisa. If someone’s warning could protect me from going through the same loss, I wouldn’t think it very nice if they kept silent. A different way to look at it. Who am I being nice too?

  10. Deb Wolf

    What a thoughtful post, Debbie! It’s funny how often adages get attributed to the Bible. I believe the saying originated with the movie Bambi. Thumper quotes his mother in a conversation with Bambi.

    I think Biblically we’re called to speak the truth with kindness. And I think your tips are perfect advice. Blessings!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Deb, I never knew the origin. Thanks for that interesting tidbit.

  11. Anastasia

    ‘Nice’ is complex – you’re so right. And sometimes, things need to be said with love and they might not be sugar coated, but is it ‘nice’ to sugar coat or dance around something that could spare someone pain and suffering, for fear of not coming across as ‘nice’?… Lots to think about here – thank you for this!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Anastasia, yes, sometimes it’s not an easy answer. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  12. Sue

    Your post caught my eye Debbie, precisely because of the “Bambi” origins (as Deb mentioned), lol. I remember it from my childhood, many years ago.
    Your thoughtful consideration of this issue was helpful. I’m right in the middle of a quandary that involves someone with whom I used to be closer, until this person became very close to someone who I have found quite toxic and destructive. My struggle is whether to explain to my friend why distance has developed between us. It’s not an easy issue to resolve, particularly because it would involve revealing things about the other person that my friend probably doesn’t know. Life is soooo tricky sometimes!! Thanks for sharing what you’ve wrestled with.
    By the way………… what DID you end up doing in your Switzerland situation??

    • Debbie Wilson

      Sue, life is sticky. And some people aren’t ready to hear a warning. It unsets their “comfort.” When this person continued on and on, I prayed and prayed what to do. I finally said something. It stopped her praising him if nothing else! I didn’t rehash the gory details, but I let her know a small outline of our personal experience. When someone told us they had been concerned when they heard we’d hired a church member for a project, I wished they had told us before we’d suffered financial loss and headaches instead of after.

  13. Ashley Rowland | HISsparrowBlog

    LOVE THIS POST! You’ve helped me gain some clarity on this topic. Now if I can just be brave…

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ashley, I’ve found it helpful to pray for God’s timing once I know I am to speak the truth. A wise woman once told me if I’m eager to bring up an uncomfortable topic, I’m probably not the one to do it. But when I know I should but don’t want to, I probably am the one. Blessings to you.

  14. Aimee Imbeau

    This is such a great post, Debbie! I can totally relate to this right now – and I know I have to share honestly about my experience. Thanks for linking up with Grace & Truth. Sharing on social media today!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thanks, Aimee. These are situations we’d rather not be experts in. 🙂 But when God allows us to know the truth by personal experience I believe He uses it for His greater purposes.

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