Be Careful Little Tongues What You Say

“Let your speech always be gracious…”
Colossians 4:6 (ESV)

Last week I posted a little note on my Facebook page about gossip and its destructive power.  Since that post, I’ve been conscientious about what I say: how much of what I say, or what I listen to, is actually gossip.  Like a sea with unfathomed depths and hidden streams is the pervasiveness of gossip in our lives.  None of us is immune to its reach – if you have an ear and a tongue, you are susceptible to gossip.

The British poet John Dryden put it this way:

There is a lust in man no charm can tame,
Of loudly publishing his neighbor’s shame.
Hence, on eagle’s wings immortal scandals fly,
While virtuous actions are but born and die.

The Word of God makes it even clearer:

“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness… For every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5-8).

Gossip is the idle talk or spreading of rumors usually pertaining to the personal, intimate lives of others people.  Gossip, that is, what is being shared as gossip, may in fact be, and often is, true – what makes it gossip is who is sharing it and why it is being shared.  Gossip usually comes about because of anger and bitterness, the person being talked about has upset someone else, so the wounded party makes it their mission to destroy their reputation by sharing a tidbit of juicy information.  Sometimes gossip is used as a means to demonstrate one’s power, their ability to be “in the know,” to have just a little more information about someone than anyone else.  Regardless of the motive, gossip is always destructive and always sinful.

Yes, gossip is a sin.  Paul lists it in there with the “big sins” found in Romans 1.  Right alongside the famous sins like idolatry, homosexuality, murder and strife, you’ll find gossip and slander (and even disobedience to parents) (Rom 1:26-32).

It is very important to remember that gossip does not favor a particular gender.  When we think of gossip, we often picture a group of whispering women sitting around the table “having coffee.”  But if we’re honest, outside of the 10 minutes of reporting the scores and actual news of the sporting world, what would you call the other 50 minutes of Sports Center?  Or whatever major news network you prefer to watch?  The only difference between gossip and what we call news is the volume at which it is communicated.

And the church is not immune.  Paul implored the Corinthians to change their ways, saying,

“For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (2 Corinthians 12:20).

I’ve heard it said before, “Christians don’t gossip, they just share prayer requests.”

Friends, let us be very careful about what we say, and to what we chose to listen.  We sing it as children, “O be careful little mouth what you say… O be careful little hears what you hear… For the Father up above is looking down in love…”  Paul encourages us in Colossians 4, “Let your speech always be gracious…”  So let me offer some encouragement along these lines.

  1. Consider your friends – are the people you associate with gossipers?  Do you find your conversations are always gravitating toward someone who is not a part of the conversation?  If you surround yourself with gossipers, then chances are, you will be sharing the gossip soon.  Proverbs 20:19 says, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.”
  2. Examine your motives for sharing information – Why are you going to say what you are about to say?  Is your motive to get revenge for some harm, to show how much you know about another person, to wield some power or influence over what other people think about someone?  Unless what you are about to share is intended to help someone in need, encourage those who are struggling, and bringing glory to God, it is probably best to hold your tongue.  Again, Proverbs 11:13 says, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”
  3. Think about the truthfulness of what you are going to say – Do you know that what you are saying is absolutely true?  If it is, does revealing that truth bring help to the situation?  Our speech should be edifying and uplifting one another.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14, “Let all things be done for building up.”
  4. Think about who you are sharing with – Does sharing this information deal directly with your situation?  So often gossip begins when person A hurts person B, so person B goes and tells person C.  This is called “Triangulation.”  You are incorporating people who have nothing to do with the problem, and cannot contribute to the solution.

After considering all of this, you may find you don’t have much to talk about.  Still, what would it look like if our conversations were transformed by the Holy Spirit; so that, rather than talking about the sins and shortcomings of those around us, we shared the goodness of God, the wonder of His love for us, and the blessing of knowing our risen Savior Jesus Christ.  Against such conversations there are no laws!


Vinegar Pie?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

(Col. 4:6 ESV)

I introduced my men’s Bible Study this morning to something known primarily in the south as “Bless His/Her Heart Syndrome” (BHHS).  Essentially what this means is that you can say just about anything you want about a person, either directly or indirectly, as long you preface your attack with “Bless his heart, but…”  I have heard the most vicious, slanderous, and malicious things said about people, even in churches, but it was okay because it all started with a blessing.  In some circles this is known as a “vinegar pie.”

This thinly veiled assault takes many forms – here are just a few:

  • “No offense, but…” or “Not to be rude, but…”  These are usually prepositions to very offensive and rude comments, and usually all offense and rudeness is intended.  What we really mean is, “I am about to offend you, but I will take it personally if you get upset with me over what I am about to say.”
  • “With all Christian love…” How many times has someone complimented you, either for what you’ve done or how you look, and have prefaced their comments with, “I mean this with all Christian love…”?  No, usually this kind of Christian love is critical love – “I mean this will all Christian love, but don’t you think you ought to get a haircut?”
  • “Honest!”  I have found if you have to try to convince people you are telling the truth by saying, “honest” all the time, you have a credibility problem.  “Honestly, I’m not sure that dress really flatters you.”  That’s almost like saying, “Well, most of the time I’d lie and say it looks nice, but this time I’m going to be brutally honest.”
  • “I need you to pray for…”  Now most of the time when people ask you to pray for someone, the request and need are genuine.  Then there’s the time when you know something’s rotten in Denmark.  The prayer request has very intimate details that really don’t help us know why to pray, but tell us a lot about the personal life of those involved.  The prayer request begins with “well I heard…” and the source of the information is not the person or persons involved.  We seem to think that as long as it is under the heading of “prayer requests” it is immune from becoming gossip.

All joking aside, though, while it’s prevalent, this kind of underhanded, verbal cut-down has no place in the Christian life.  “Speaking the truth in love” does not mean sugarcoating the truth, or softening the blow with deflective praise.

James says, “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).  When I was a kid, I think the saying went, “You kiss your mom with that mouth?!?”

Maybe, as a Christian, you’ve cleaned up your language, and that is commendable.  Swearing and cursing are ugly and offensive to a heart of peace and joy, and does not demonstrate the kind of love and goodness that befits the new life in Christ.  But neither does the kind of veiled yet destructive language that usually follows “well bless his heart…”  Why not just say, “bless his heart,” and leave it at that?  Whatever criticism, whatever juicy bit of gossip you’ve got ready to fly, whatever cynical knock that’s about to drop – leave it at the blessing.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Let your blessing be a genuine blessing.  And let your speech always be gracious.