But surely, some “neighbors” deserve a reproach:
Then there are those people who should understand that their chosen positions make them free game for a little bit of everyone’s opinion:
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
2/14/2020 08:50:43 pm
So often I have had to apologize for hasty words. I'm learning the value and the mercy of silence.
2/15/2020 09:11:43 am
Same here, Michele! This is one of the major things I’m working on in my own heart and life right now. Changing how I view the words I say to people has been changing how I see the people I’m saying them to.
2/17/2020 01:29:45 pm
I used to clam up so much that I drove my husband crazy that he didn't know what I was thinking. So I had to learn to be a little freer with my words. Now I'm in danger of going the other way, especially with my blog. It's so easy to judge others and tell them where they need to improve, as "constructive criticism." But really that's not always my motivation.
2/17/2020 03:57:49 pm
I just had a conversation this past Sunday with a dear lady who said the same thing! She said clamming up too much caused her to harbor bitterness in her heart, so she's had to work through when and what to say. I myself tend to be a very critical person, so just choosing to say nothing is often my way of relinquishing control of a person or situation to God. There is definitely a time and place when we need to say something, though, as long as it's said to edify not to tear down.
2/17/2020 04:16:30 pm
Thanks, Lesley! It is very important. I think all of us need the reminder occasionally since our conversations are such day-in-day out things that can either do a lot of harm or a lot of good. God's been convicting me so much about the words I've said recently, so this was a painful write for me.
Oh so much to comment on regarding this post, Patsy! First of all, you are too funny with your "tongue up and tongue down" pun! Love it! And this also reminds me of a children's book I wrote (never tried to get it published) called, Big Mouth Canyon. The main character was a "tongue" (I drew the illustrations to it too!) and he was running all over the place setting fires here and there! Lol! But yes! So true to our lives. We must be very much alike because I struggle in these same ways. I guess that's why you can share so wisely what we are to do about it based on Scripture AND your father's story! I've heard that one before and it so perfectly illustrates the destructive nature of letting our tongues flap in the wind. Thanks for this encouragement. I'll be pinning and tweeting, my friend!
2/17/2020 04:20:32 pm
That's such a great idea for a children's story--and I can only imagine how entertaining those illustrations could be! I'm glad this was encouraging to you. This is a big area that God's been convicting my heart about recently. It's a daily struggle to keep my tongue from "flapping in the wind," as you put it. :-)
2/21/2020 07:27:59 am
What a challenging and encouraging post on the power of our words. It is a bit frightening to read the words: You can never unsay words that are spoken. What a sobering truth that should help us put a guard over our mouth. As well as your excellent point that we can be ministers of grace by both what is said and what is unsaid. This is such a practical and helpful post!
2/21/2020 10:10:03 am
I'm so glad this was an encouragement to you, Elena. This is definitely an expression of what God's working on in my life. I'm trying to minimize those words I can't unsay!
One of my daily prayers is Let the words of my mouth be acceptable in your sight Lord and set a watch before my lips. The Bible says so much about our tongues and mouths. Thanks for sharing this as I always need the reminder. Too often I let my tongue speak before I think and ask the Lord for wisdom and grace.
2/21/2020 02:23:20 pm
That is such a great reminder from scripture and an amazing daily prayer, Ellen! Thank you for sharing that! I think I’ll add that prayer to my own daily time with God.
3/4/2020 01:00:33 pm
What a powerful word to be focused on this year, Carolyn! A powerfully hard word too. I have often found that not only does choosing silence help me not to say something I’ll regret later, but it also helps me to learn and listen.
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