Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil,to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evil; let me not eat of their delicacies. —Psalm 141:3-4 NIV
Talking is something that most of us do very well. Thus, we should carefully consider Proverbs 10:19, which states: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Since it is so easy to become ensnared in sin when we talk too much, we should be ever so cautious in what we say.
A commonly used word in older Bible translations for one who cannot restrain his tongue is “talebearer”. One source defines a talebearer as: “a person who spreads gossip that is likely to cause trouble or harm.” Indeed, the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:8)
There is no doubt about it. We really do need to hold our tongues, earnestly striving to walk in wisdom before the Lord. Hopefully, the following questions and comments will help us in this regard. I urge you to prayerfully consider these:
Should we listen to everything we hear? First, consider the penetrating words of Proverbs 17:4, which says, “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.” Clearly, we should not listen to everything that we hear. Now, reflect on the words of Proverbs 10:18, which states: “…whoever spreads slander is a fool.” These are strong words, especially when viewed against the backdrop of Ephesians 5:3-4, which clearly states that, among other things, “foolish talk” is not proper for God’s holy people. Slander truly is foolish talk to which saints should not give an ear. The talebearer who has no one to tell will soon quit telling his or her tales.
Should we repeat everything we hear? Proverbs 6:16-19 gives us a list of things that are hated by the Lord. Included in this list is “a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Verse 19) Sometimes those who talk the most actually know the least. Thus, we cannot believe everything we hear. Beware! False witnesses that speak lies prey on the unsuspecting listener. This is an unpleasant reality, which we must all keep in mind. There is no room for commonly used disclaimers such as “people are saying.” Parroting what others have said puts us at risk of participating in another person’s lies? We should not repeat everything we hear.
Should we say everything we think? James 1:19 unequivocally asserts that we should be slow to speak. This allows us time to give careful thought to what we say before we say it. So, when a snappy retort flashes through our minds, before we speak, we must think! We do not have to say everything we think; but we should think about everything that we say! This will permit us the necessary time to measure what we say against the standards of Ephesians 4:29. Are these wholesome words? Are they helpful for building others up? Will they benefit those who listen?
Should we tell everything we know? Consider what Proverbs 11:13 says: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” A trustworthy person is one who can keep confidential matters confidential. A talebearer cannot. We should not tell everything we know. Proverbs 17:9 underscores the importance of this injunction. It declares: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” No wonder the Lord’s brother wrote, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6) Usually, the best thing to say is nothing at all.
Do we realize how harmful words can be? Words can be harmful in two respects. The first way words can do damage pertains to the one speaking. In Proverbs 13:3 we read, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Second, words can have a harmful impact on others. Proverbs 11:9a states, “With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor.” Few things hurt worse than to be pierced through by something that someone says about us, especially if the one spreading the gossip is supposed to be a confidant or friend. Just think of how much emotional pain could be done away with if, upon realizing the harmful potential inherent in the words we speak, we would do wisely and refrain from gossiping!
Words are powerful for good or evil! On the one hand, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11). Conversely, “reckless words,” says Proverbs 12:18, “pierce like a sword.” Because words are packed with so much power, we need to exercise extreme caution in what we say! My words, your words, are a reflection of our hearts. Jesus said that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. (Luke 6:45) In fact, the manner in which each one of us manages our words is a primary indicator of the genuineness of our religion. James 1:26 reads, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” May God help us use our words wisely!
© Bill Williams
May 3, 2006