And then I sit down to read God’s Word and my overindulged tongue begins to stumble over the words of the Psalmist declaring:
"Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy hill [...] he that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor." Psalm 15:1,3
But surely, some “neighbors” deserve a reproach:
All of us spend each day speaking words that we can never unspeak. These words represent who we are to the people around us. Our own words define us. As Christians, they show the world who our God is. Do your unsaved coworkers see God as a minister of grace or as a corrupt backbiter casting shadows of reproach?
When in Doubt, Don't Say It
You'd be surprised how much you can say just by keeping your mouth shut. God’s work of conviction in my heart has forced me to evaluate the words coming out of my mouth in all kinds of different situations, and I have found that much guilt and regret can be avoided by simply choosing to say nothing.
Psalm 34:13 tells the reader,
“Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.”
We can be ministers of grace to others by what we don’t say as well as by what we say. Most of us are a little too used to our freedom of speech to just let our mouths say the first thing our minds think. Remember that “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9a). In the passion or carelessness of the moment, our hearts can easily lead us to say something that does not reflect God’s grace.
If you aren’t sure that the words about to come out will be gracious, just don’t say them. Silence is not weakness. It can be a mature, deliberate, and difficult choice to keep ourselves from selfishly maligning God’s reputation. Remember, God has shown you more grace than you will ever have to show that person who has wronged you or in some way seems inferior to you. Swallow the pride that makes you want to show everyone how much better you are than that person. Remember how Jesus treats sinners. Represent.
Good Intentions Don't Prevent Bad Consequences
We often justify the slanderous stories or information we share with others. We think they have the right to know since their children also have that teacher, their husbands also know that woman, or their mothers also attend that church.
We can never unsay words that are spoken. We can apologize and be granted forgiveness, but the damage to that person's reputation, the hurt that person feels, and the way we have damaged our own reputation as recipients of God's grace cannot be magically removed.
Remember the Golden Rule
We have all known since we were children to treat others as we want them to treat us, but sometimes we forget that this is not just advice, this is a commandment from the Bible:
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
When applied to our words, this principle is quite simple. If you wouldn’t want someone else saying it about you, chances are you know and the person you’re telling knows that you’re gossiping. Just because something might be true doesn’t mean that person would want you to share it with someone else, no matter how much you feel entitled to. Once again, remember God’s grace to you. Show that grace to another imperfect human.
Be Especially Guarded in Your Speech about Fellow Believers
Just last Sunday, my pastor described how the New Testament church functioned as a family who took care of each other. This behavior, in our world, is not natural. It is natural to act out of self-interest. A community of people who serve, love, and care for each other in their speech as well as their actions is a powerful testimony. This testimony is what attracted the New Testament people to the gospel, and it is still what God uses to draw people today.
As believers, we have the responsibility to rebuke each other directly, not to spread the word about somebody's wrongdoing until everyone else knows. As my pastor said, we should not be "harsh on brothers and sisters in Christ under the same grace as we are." We cannot be unified if our words divide us. In John 17:21, Jesus prays to the Father:
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me."
Words that cause hurt, division, and disillusion within the body of Christ hamper the work of the gospel. The work of the gospel is God’s work of grace to the world. Don’t stand in the way of God’s grace because you like sharing nasty secrets about other members of the body of Christ.
In her book Control Girl, Shannon Popkin writes,
“Stop sharing information that will divide people. Proverbs 16:28 says, ‘A whisperer separates close friends.’ A woman with a pure, untwisted heart works to fortify relationships, not damage them. She repeats the good things people say about each other. She endears them to each other. She sows seeds of peace, not discord. Sure, she still sees the unfair treatment, betrayal, and rudeness. But for the sake of relationships, she refrains from passing out grenades. Rather than using conflict to her advantage or to solicit support for her side, the woman who relinquishes control to God keeps the circle small while working through hurtful disagreements.”
Be Especially Merciful in Your Speech about Unbelievers
Remember how much you needed God’s grace when you were saved? That should really be all I need to say here. Those around us in need of God’s saving grace are not drawn closer to the gospel of Christ when Christ’s followers speak what they deserve to hear. They are used to hearing what they deserve. Everyone likes to pick out their faults and talk about them behind their backs. Be different. Be the person who speaks words of kindness that they don’t deserve.
Gossiping is one of my weaknesses—one of my daily temptations that I sometimes don't even recognize without hindsight reflection. I'm definitely not sharing these lessons because I've mastered them, but because I need help with them. We all do, if we're honest.
So, if you come to my workplace and hear me talking badly about a coworker, don't run home and tell your husband that Cami is such a hypocrite. Be a minister of God's grace to me. Value my testimony of our God enough to come up to me and rebuke me. Rebuke me in love that I might change. This is the work of the body of Christ.
Whenever you're tempted to say something you aren't sure you should say, ask yourself:
Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible
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