Words are so extremely powerful. The ways in which they can be used to build a person up or tear them down is astonishing. To be able to have perfect control over the things we say in effect does a lot to show our control over the impulses that can lead us to sin. So much so that the Lord’s brother tells us, “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).
The truth is, brothers and sisters, not everyone has been successful in taming this “unruly evil, full of deadly poison”, that is, the tongue. Especially in these later days when our focus as a community should be centered on the imminent return of the master, we still have those who regard not their words; words which, like an uncontrollable fire, spread rapidly across the globe having a trail of scorch marks on the very brethren who are devoting so much time and effort for the sake of the truth.
It is always much simpler for unwise accusers to spread rumors first, ask questions later. This shows such a lack of wisdom being demonstrated, for Solomon tells us, “The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips” (Prov 16:23).
However, Scripture is abundant with examples of how the wicked snare themselves and fall into their own pit, judged by their own words. For example, Psa 7:15 — “He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch [which] he made.” (see also 9:15; 57:6; Prov 26:27; 28:10; Ecc 10:8). When we use the tongue to spread ill rumors then the principle is clear: that from our own words we will be judged. We are in fact snaring ourselves rather than it being Yahweh who does the snaring.
It is so vital to keep our mouths from evil speaking; in fact, it is a matter of life or death. For “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”. For “by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt 12:36, 37). The wise know this and strive desperately to counter the impulses that can lead to ill speech — “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: [but] he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction” (Prov 13:3).
It matters not whether we are speaking behind others’ backs or out in the open. The result is the same. The Lord hates hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is like leaven. It grows and grows, corrupting along the way. Once one person starts being hypocritical, someone else does and so forth. And whether or not we feel justified in our remarks against another person, let us remember that it is not whether we are right or wrong in our statements, it is about keeping that which we are commanded.
It is about our character development. Yahweh wants the “fruit of our lips to be praise” (Heb 13:15). We are instructed to “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Eph. 4:29). By doing this, we follow divine instruction, we develop Godly and acceptable characters, and we leave the prerogative of judgment to Yahweh and His son, where it rightfully belongs.
We must be careful in what we hear as well, as man cannot determine the intent of the heart. Words can come across so smooth from certain individuals, yet a heart of stone can be underneath. Consider the man of Psa 55:21 — “[The words] of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war [was] in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet [were] they drawn swords.” The point is that a godly man will never use rumor-spreading, ungodly speech, yet a corrupt individual can cloak his true intents with buttery speech. This is why we must learn to crush rumor spreading at the point of interception. This takes practice, and a development into being no “respector of persons”. “Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow [him]” (Psa 140:11).
We have all heard of the term “tattletale”. The Scriptural term is “talebearer” from the Hebrew word “Rakiyl”. A talebearer is easy to reveal. “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Prov 11:13, see also 26:22). Under the law, the activity of a talebearer was forbidden; “Thou shalt not go up and down [as] a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor: I [am] the Lord.” (Lev 19:16). The damage of talebearers is far reaching, with words as wounds (Prov 18:8); enticing lips (Prov 20:19), and that which soweth strife (Prov 16:28). Jeremiah translates these corrupt people as slanderers (Jer 6:28; 9:4). Ezekiel’s condemnation of those of corrupt mind living in Jerusalem at the time, speaks of those who are “men that carry tales (same word) to shed blood” (Ezek 22:9).
From these Scriptural examples, and many others could be offered, we can readily see why James concentrated so highly on bridling the tongue. Drawing our thoughts to a conclusion, I would like to quote a very practical example for us all to consider as recorded by Bro. Edward Johnston in the Christadelphian Magazine of 1967 (Vol. 104, pg 123):
“Let us imagine a modern situation, and if the picture is a little overdrawn, it is only to make sure the point gets home. A certain Meeting quietly maintains a steady “Lightstand” for a number of years, all members seem to function in harmony, and even with enthusiasm, when suddenly a brother (perhaps the quietest and most inoffensive one, or even one known as a “Pillar of the Truth”) would appear to have gone “off the rails” in conduct. This may only be known to one person, but what happens? This one person whispers his criticism (or suspicions) to his close friend in “strict confidence”, he in turn passes it on to his best friend with even greater stress on its confidential nature. But in spite of the sincerity of the affirmation that they have no intention of passing on gossip, in a short while“the whole cycle of nature is set on fire” (R.S.V.).
“Even if this is a real case of departure from the high moral standard in Christ, yet the brother (or sister) in question may quickly realize his folly, and with repentance make every effort to get back on the “narrow path”. But what happens now? Besides his original lapse — now repented of (and a lesson well learnt!) — he has a new load to bear, a scandal that descends upon him like a blight that turns all the green foliage to a distressing grey! It may well be that at this stage he (or she) is approached by the Arranging Brethren, for it is too late now to follow the Scriptural procedure for such a case so clearly outlined in Matt 18:15–18 (See also our Constitution).Let us suppose he freely admits his folly, yet after being accepted back into the bosom of his beloved Ecclesia, he may still have an aching heart, for the occasional inquisitorial question, “Whatever made you do this?”, not only keeps the matter simmering, but cannot be answered, for to do so may involve another member of the Meeting who was the indirect (or even direct) cause of the “fall from grace”. And so to prevent the fire spreading in new directions, he offers no mitigating circumstance.”
May we all take wise action in our personal walk towards the Kingdom by watching our words very carefully, for truly “death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov 18:21).
Matt Drywood (Hamilton Book Road, ON)