Taming the Tremendous Power of the Tiny Tongue
Gossip is fast becoming one of the most potent weapons that Satan has to use against God’s people. Rumors fly, gossip spreads and the reputations, ministries and marriages of many of God’s servants are ruined. Sad to say, some of this gossip pours out of the hearts and lips of some who sit in the pews every Sunday singing about the love of Jesus. It’s a well known fact that when some leave the pew, they proceed to chew up their pastor. Some may even shamefully gloat over the shortcomings of their spiritual leaders.
Satan is out to destroy every man and woman of God and discredit every ministry for God. We use all kinds of excuses to spread gossip garbage and we rarely think of: 1) the far reaching effect, 2) the horrible damage, or 3) the ruin we cause not only to individuals but also to entire churches. If we knowingly or unknowingly participate in gossip, we can be a tool in Satan’s hand to destroy the reputation and discredit the ministry of God’s people.
Perhaps there’s no hurt as deep as the cruel gossip passed on by those who should be encouraging and praying for their pastor rather than criticizing and gossiping about him. While the truth is a powerful weapon, sometimes it can’t keep up with the speed of gossip. We can’t allow ourselves to offer our lips in the service of Satan – to malign, to destroy, to assassinate others with gossip. Even if it were true, our job is to restore, heal and lift up the fallen, not to crucify their character or destroy their ministry. In 1 Corinthians 13:6, the apostle Paul says: Love “takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but has joy in what is true.” Faithful disciples should never gloat over the weaknesses or shortcomings of other people.
We can send the devil to hell licking his wounds if we would simply: 1) refuse to gossip; and 2) refuse to even listen to gossip. If you can’t prove it, then keep it to yourself. If you can prove it, keep it to yourself and pray about it. Even when gossip is true, we don’t have the right to spread it. Gossip can and must stop with you. If discipline is required, it’s up to the spiritual leaders of the church. Even church discipline is to be restorative and redemptive.
Each one of us has access to a powerful weapon that can be used in any situation to make things better or worse: our words. Anyone with the ability to say the right thing at the right time and avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time will almost always find themselves successful in their relationships. Even a fool can appear wise, if he keeps his mouth shut.
I remember when I was a little boy and I got my feelings hurt by something somebody said. I went crying to my mother and she said, “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Guess what? She lied! Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword.” James 3:6 says: “The tongue is like a flame of fire” that burns and hurts. Unkind, cutting, or hateful words can, and unfortunately do, hurt us as well as others.
Reflecting on your own life, do you remember any painful words that were spoken to you? My guess is, yes! My guess is that you may still feel the pain of words spoken long ago. Our self-esteem can be seriously damaged by unkind and un-thoughtful words. Paul said in Ephesians 4:29: “Let your speech be seasoned with salt that it might impart grace to the hearers.” Many problems have to do with words. Proverbs: Where words are many, sin is not absent. Our words can be like dangerous weapons which have the power to destroy others!
Our words are also like an arrow in a bow; once released, they can’t be taken back. Because they can’t be taken back, we need to carefully weigh them before we say them. What’s the biblical standard for evaluating words? Ephesians 4:15: “speaking the truth in love.” It’s not enough to be one or the other. We must be both at the same time! We need to think before we speak. Proverbs 15:28 says: “The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer.” We can all avoid a great deal of trouble by avoiding mean-spirited words spoken in anger.
There are a variety of ways in which we can categorize our sins. For example:
- Sins of Commission – doing something that we know is wrong and
- Sins of Omission – failing to do something that we know it right.
- Sins of Cognizance – knowing and wanting to do something that is wrong.
- Sins of Ignorance – doing something that is wrong and not being aware of it.
- Sins of the Mind – entertaining and/or dwelling on evil or sinful thoughts.
- Sins of the Emotions – entertaining and/or dwelling on sinful feelings/attitudes.
- Sins of Speaking – originate in the heart and come out of our uncontrolled lips.
- Sinful Actions – originate in the heart and are expressed through our finger tips.
In this article, we will be focusing on the cause, consequence and cure of our verbal sins.
Our Words Reveal Much About Us! But Where Do They Come From?
What comes out of a sponge when we squeeze it? Whatever is in it before you squeeze it. What’s most important: whether it gets squeezed, or what’s in the sponge before squeezing? All verbal sins originate from the sinful mental attitudes that preceded it. Wrong thinking leads to sinful attitudes which are expressed in verbal and non-verbal sins. Both grumbling and boasting come from a sinful heart, so do self-pity and self-righteousness. No one slanders, maligns, judges or gossips without first having a sinful or selfish attitude.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:34a: “Whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” Verbal sins often spring from an attitude of: self-righteous arrogance or self-pity. They include both the character assassination of others as well as blasphemy against God.
James 3:5-10 says:
- …the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness, and poisons every part of the body. And the tongue is set on fire by hell itself and can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster. Men have trained, or can train, every kind of animal or bird that lives and every kind of reptile and fish, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is always ready to pour out its deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our heavenly Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against men who are made like God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Dear brothers, surely this is not right!
Of the seven most grievous sins mentioned in Proverbs 6:16-19, three are verbal sins:
- Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies [intent to deny or deceive with respect to the truth], hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath [perjury[ and one who stirs up dissension in the [royal] family [Gossip, slander, maligning or judging].
The three sins are: A lying tongue – one who deliberately denies or deceives; a false witness – one who prevents justice by perjury; a troublemaker – one who spreads strife or discord.
What Are Some of the Basic Causes of Our Verbal Sins?
Strife, discord and division are spread through: gossip, slander, maligning, and judging. The motivation is often self-righteous arrogance which is evidence of either: Legalism (worth by works) or licentiousness (immoral degeneracy). They both flatter those who listen and slander those being discussed. Strife involves having a double standard: 1) self-vindication and 2) judging others. Listen to what God’s Word has to say about this:
- Romans 2:1: “No matter who you are, if you judge anyone, you have no excuse. When you judge another person, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.”
- James. 3:14-16: “Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom – it’s devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throat.”
Bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, arrogance or foolish pride are often behind unkind words. Beware of anyone who considers it their duty to speak evil or discredit others. It is hypocritical to judge, slander, malign, condemn and turn a blind eye to our sins. James 4:11: “Don’t criticize and speak evil about each other, dear brothers. If you do, you will be fighting against God’s law of loving one another, declaring it is wrong. But your job is not to decide whether this law is right or wrong, but to obey it.” It’s not our responsibility to take on ourselves the divine prerogative of judging. Since no one but God knows all there is to know about anyone, we’re not qualified. Romans 14:10: “You have no right to criticize or look down on your brother. Remember, each of us will stand personally before the Judgment Seat of God.” Jesus said, “You must give account on Judgment Day for every idle word you speak.” (MSG) “There will be a time of reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously.”
We may commit a greater sin criticizing someone than the one we are criticizing. Remember, God alone, not us, is the one responsible for evaluating our lives and lips. James 5:9: “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers. Are you yourselves above criticism? For see!…The great Judge is coming…Let him do whatever criticizing must be done.” Whenever we’re legalistic, self-righteous or arrogant, we’re rejecting the grace of God. Hebrews 12:15: (NRSV) “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and through it many become defiled.” Where does bitterness come from? It comes by failing to forgive others. Bitterness can be expressed verbally, thereby poisoning others. It can even destroy entire congregations.
What Are the Three Basic Categories of the Sins of the Tongue?
- Slander: This includes gossip, maligning, judging and destructively criticizing others.
- Falsehood: This includes half-truth, untruths, deception, misrepresentation, perjury, fabrication, pathological lying, distortion, equivocation, verbal deception and hypocrisy.
- Complaint: This includes whimpering, whining, grumbling and complaining. We often engage in verbal sins when we lose sight of our position and privilege in Christ.
What did Jesus say to us about judging in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1-2? “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”
We may wonder: If we can’t judge or gossip about others, what can we do? Two words: radical self-confrontation: It’s our responsibility to judge and evaluate ourselves not others.
- 1 Corinthians 11:31: “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.”
- 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
What Are Some of the Negative Consequences of Our Verbal Sins?
“The Lord disciplines those He loves. He disciplines everyone He accepts as His child” (Heb. 12:6). There are many sins for which God will discipline us. These include : gossip, slander, maligning, judging, perjury, dishonesty and distorted complaints against another person. These verbal sins bring on three categories of triple compound discipline (Psa. 52): Discipline for the: 1) Mental sins that motivate the tongue, 2. Verbal sin itself, and 3. Negative impact of our sin on others. What form does God’s discipline normally take? Usually it involves the natural consequences of our actions. Galatians 6:7: “We reap what we sow.” Psalms 34:12-13 says: “Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good? Then watch your tongue! Keep your lips from telling lies!”
It is important that we recognize the sins of the tongue and avoid them like the plague. Romans 16:17-18: “Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents.”
Controlling the tongue and avoiding the sins of the tongue is a mark of spiritual maturity. James 3:2: “For we often stumble and fall, all of us. If there is anyone who never stumbles in speech, that man has reached maturity of character and is able to curb his whole nature.” One of the reasons verbal sins are so important is that they can destroy an entire church. It’s the duty of any pastor to warn his congregation. Those who commit such sins in a local congregation are referred to in the Bible as troublemakers. They can cause schism by circumventing the established church’s structure or by undermining the pastor’s authority.
What is the origin of troublemaking or mischief making? It begins when we have the sincere desire to straighten out the world in which we live or the church to which we belong. We want to right wrongs, especially in areas in which we have personally been victims. We may start out by helping others, but soon our motivation becomes blurred and we begin to do things for our glory [personal approval] rather than God’s glory. We need to ask: Are we seeking to help another in order to please God or to receive the praise of others? Are we doing God’s will, His way, for His glory, or doing our will, our way, for our glory?
There are several different types of troublemakers in the church universal:
- The one who interferes by trying to tell others how to run their lives and judging them.
- The one who establishes himself as an expert claiming to have some spiritual authority.
- The one who is motivated by self-righteous arrogance in the pursuit of legalism.
- The one who bypasses the church structure and undermines the authority of the pastor.
- The one who has a weak conscience due to a lack of exposure to the truth of God’s Word.
Those engaging in verbal sins are unloving towards others and have a poor self-concept. The good news is that Jesus died for all our sins, including the many sins of the tongue. God has promised if we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just and will forgive our sins.
How Can We Apply What We Have Learned From God’s Word?
We must not only avoid engaging in verbal sins, we must not listen to verbal sins of others. We need not only to think before we speak, we also need to think before we listen, as well. When it comes to our speech, what does God desire and require? Colossians 4:6: “Everything you say should be gracious and well thought out so that you know how to answer everyone.” We should do our best to avoid sharing hearsay stories, repeating what we have heard from third parties unless it is complimentary. We must not form judgments or make decisions based on incomplete or partial information. Ephesians 4:15: We should “speak the truth in love.” Proverbs says, “Only a fool makes up his mind before hearing both sides of the matter.” We must not speak disparagingly about people who are not present and we must not listen to disparaging talk from others about people not present.
We need to know when to remove ourselves for we must not take up of offenses of others. As we continue to grow in grace, our thinking and speech will conform more to God’s will.
Appendix: An Overview of Some of the Verbal Sins in the Bible
- Slander: false charges or misrepresentation defaming or damaging another’s character.
- Gossip: repeating hearsay or rumors about personal information detrimental to others.
- Meddling: to involve yourself in another’s affairs without being wanted or needed.
- Vilification: using abusive or slanderous speech to defame or degrade someone else.
- Judging: to criticize another without having the needed authority and facts to do so.
- Lying: a false or half-true statement with the intent to willfully deceive others.
- Verbal Deception: using words to purposely mislead, misdirect or deceive others.
- Hearsay: repeating something based on second rather than first hand personal knowledge.
- Defamation: using slanderous, malicious words to destroy someone’s reputation.
- Maligning: evil speech of another motivated by bitterness, hate and spitefulness.
- Complaining: expressing annoyance, resentment and fault finding with someone.
- Fabrication: to make up or invent stories or lies to deceive or harm another.
- Equivocation: using words with double meanings in order to mislead others.
- Whining: complaining in a childish or infantile manner; acting like a baby.
- Whimpering: complaining with a low, whining, broken voice due to self-pity.
- Murmuring: uttering complaints or criticisms in a low, half-articulate voice.