An old and deadly sin
When we think of the concept of sin and of individual sins, usually the first acts that come to mind are things like murder, adultery, stealing, idolatry. Sins of the tongue are probably not listed very high in a list of heinous sins, but they should be. Perhaps sins like slander and gossip are so commonplace that we tend to overlook them. Or maybe they come so easily to our own tongues that it is too painful, personally, to think about. But with sober minds we must consider these sins of speech if our lives and our church are to be pure and joyful.
The Bible has much to say, in general, about the use of the tongue and how destructive a careless word can be. Listen to the descriptive passage about our words from James. It ought to cause each of us to tremble and cry out to our God for help in our tendency to speak in a cavalier and cutting manner.
Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. S Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (Jam 3:4-6)
The idea that the tongue is set on fire by hell itself, is not the way we usually view our speech. The twin sins of slander and gossip are hellish in their destructive power. Words can destroy a reputation or destroy joy or peace or hope. They can pierce the heart to places that are central to our deepest experience of life. It is no accident that gossip is found in a list of heinous sins in Romans 1:29-32, alongside deceit, arrogance, murder, inventors of evil, greed, envy, and haters of God.
Gossip may be defined as passing along information that is not appropriately intended for the hearer. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov 20:19). A gossip is a person who reveals secrets … something that the hearer has no business knowing or no honorable reason to hear. How easily we pass along information (often negative information) to another person that has come to us second or third hand and we don’t even know if what we heard was true. And how easily such speech can fall into the category of slander. Gossiping and slander are a kind of hatred. Look at the way Scripture connects slander and hatred. “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev 19:16,17).
One rule of thumb to follow in our speech is that we should not say anything which, if we were being the one talked about, we would not want to be passed along concerning us. Each of us is responsible to govern our tongues and each of us is responsible for what we allow to be spoken to us. When gossiping ceases, then the tempest stirred by it ceases. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov 26:20).
Of course, the opposite of words’ cruel destruction is their capacity to give life rather than destroy it. By God’s grace and the work of His omnipotent Spirit our speech can be wonderfully transformed. Let the following verses sink deeply into our souls that God may be honored by the way we talk. And let us ask God to change our hearts that our words may also be changed.
… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)
… The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov 15:7)
… A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Prov 25:11)
… The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. (Isa 50:4)
… My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right. (Psa 119:172)
… The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. (Ecc 10:12).
Finally, let us be made sober by the warning our Savior Himself gave us concerning our speech. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mt 12:36).
Longing for gracious speech,