Though the tongue is but an insignificant part of the body, it is hard to tame. In his epistle, the apostle James devotes almost a whole chapter to the evil influences of the ungoverned tongue. He aptly calls the tongue, “a fire, a world of iniquity … an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (3: 6, 8).
What are some evils of the unrestrained tongue?
Gossip or talebearing is a serious malady of the tongue which is strictly forbidden in Scripture: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19: 18). The word, “talebearer” has the idea of secretly whispering into the ears of the hearer, “juicy tales” of others’ failings or flaws in order to degrade them.
The Bible tells us that their words are “as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov. 18: 8). “… They wound the credit and reputation of the person of whom the tale is told; they wound the person to whom it is told, and destroy his love and affection to his friend; and in the issue they wound, hurt, and ruin the talebearer himself” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible). Instead of building up relationships, a gossipper, by his slanderous words, sows ill will and alienates the closest of friends.
Talebearing is a wicked and treacherous act as “a whisperer separateth chief friends” (Prov. 16: 28). It is significant that God’s Word puts “whisperers” in the same category as the reprobates – the haters of God who commit abominable evils: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1: 28-32).
The Bible records an example of this vicious act and its deadly consequences in the Old Testament. Fleeing from King Saul who was seeking his life, David sought refuge in Nob where he requested the help of the high priest Ahimelech. Seeing his needs, Ahimelech gave David the shewbread for his sustenance, and Goliath’s sword to protect himself. The priest’s act of kindness was witnessed by Doeg an Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen (I Sam. 21: 1-9). Returning from Nob, Doeg gave his master a malicious and distorted report: “Then answered Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul, and said, I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. 10 And he enquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (I Sam. 22: 9-10). Angered by Ahimelech’s aid to David his bitter enemy, Saul commanded Doeg to kill the priests of Nob. Doeg “fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod” (I Sam. 22: 18).
Brethren, let us not hurt others by carrying their stories from ear to ear. Heed the apostle Peter’s warning not to be “a busybody in other men’s matters” (I Pet. 4: 15). May the Lord grant us grace to speak kindly of others.
o Grievous words
It is so natural for us to react negatively when provoked. We give vent to our frustration with angry words. We make caustic remarks, and lash out at the offending party. These grievous words often inflict pain and hurt: “… but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15: 1b). Far from bringing healing to the relationship, our words tear it down and aggravate a tense situation. On the other hand, a sincere answer that is calmly and quietly given, without any malice, can help defuse a delicate situation: “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15: 1a).
“We yield to irritation; retort upon our neighbor; have recourse to self-justification; insist upon the last word … Soft and healing words gain a double victory – over ourselves and our brother” (Charles Bridges).
“Mild words, gentle expressions, delivered with kindness and tenderness, humility and submission; these will work upon a man’s passions, weaken his resentments, and break and scatter the storm of wrath raised in his breast, just breaking forth in a very boisterous and blustering manner; so high winds are sometimes laid by soft showers. Thus the Ephraimites were pacified by Gideon’s mild answer; and David by Abigail’s very submissive and respectful address” (Matthew Henry).
What makes a response gentle is the motive of our heart, not so much the volume. A soft answer is always motivated by a spirit of love, humility and grace. Let us strive to speak healing and peaceable words to others. (… to be continued)