Some people own guns, some learn karate, and some drive their cars like maniacs, but by far the most dangerous weapon around, and one which we all possess, is our mouth. Our mouths have the power to destroy, through gossip by the way we talk about each other, and by the way we talk to each other.
We’ve all heard something like this many times:
“Don’t tell anyone, but….”
Usually this little primer is followed by a story about someone which may or may not be true, but which very quickly gets passed on to someone else, and someone else, and someone else. Before long, dozens of people believe something to be true about someone they may not even know. Such stories, whether true, false or exaggerated, have the power to destroy lives, to crush spirits, to wreck relationships, to weaken entire societies, and to start battles. A single word or a simple phrase can be enough to stick in a person’s mind, where it festers and causes all kinds of trouble, including anger, depression, fear and distrust, perhaps for years, or even for a lifetime.
Gossip is never “harmless fun”, it’s something that starts to damage and doesn’t stop. And gossip is gossip, whether it’s true or not. Some people spend their whole lives slandering others, spreading stories and rumors, and saying hateful things. We all indulge in gossip at least occasionally (go on, admit it), and we can all be tempted to join in a gossip party, especially if the target of the attack is someone we don’t like.
Some people love to argue, in fact some people are only happy when they are arguing, and of course, it’s always someone else’s fault.
We all know that Jesus said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. If you made a mistake or a foolish decision wouldn’t you like it to be kept quiet, or would you rather have people verbally attack you and talk about what you did all around town? If someone had something against you, would you prefer them to come to you about it in a loving way and try to get the problem solved, or would you rather they went around slandering you?
The Bible tackles the problem of gossip and harmful speech many times over. James discusses the destructive potential of the mouth:
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body”…”With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3: 5-9).
Jesus said that what comes out of our mouth is a sign or a symptom of what’s in our heart and in our mind. In other words, what we say is what we are:
“…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:34-35).
More sobering for all of us is Jesus’ following warning:
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (verses 36-37).
It’s amazing to realize that when Isaiah saw God – a very rare privilege – the first thing he said was this:
“Woe to me!”…’for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6: 5).
We all need to ask forgiveness for things we’ve said (no, point that finger at yourself, not at someone else). Then we need to take a lesson from David:
“I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” (Psalm 17:3);
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141: 3).