One of the times in my life when I feel the best is after I leave a conversation where I almost criticized someone, but held my tongue. At the moment I wanted to do so, but refrained and was so glad I did afterward.
As a leader, pastor, and counselor I am privy to sensitive information about people and I must not repeat it. First, because of professional ethics, but also just because I care about the person.
Love does not repeat or expose the faults, sins, and wrongdoing of other people. This is what the Bible means when it says that love “rejoiceth not in iniquity” (I Corinthians 13:6).
The Bible says that a person that “soweth discord” among others is an “abomination” (Proverbs 6:16-19). The word “abomination” refers to a kind of sin that God especially hates. The word “discord” means “a lack of harmony or disagreement”.
God compares this to sowing seeds in the ground. The seeds are words that having been sown grow to fruition. The harvest is sure to follow – division and destruction.
What would cause a person to not tell the wrongs of people when it would make them look better or to get even? It is love. When I care about someone I am motivated to watch what I say about them.
The Bible says, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins”. (Proverbs 10:12) Hatred causes one to create discord; love covers how others have hurt you. The word “covereth” means “to conceal or hide something”.
That doesn’t mean we do not deal with wrong by those in our families, organizations or churches. It does mean that we do not repeat it to others that are not part of the solution. Love causes us to not speak about the failures of others haphazardly. Do you reveal or conceal the sins of people? What you speak about, or don’t, reveals whether or not you care for a person.
Here’s another text that speaks to the issue – “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends”. (Proverbs 17:9) The word “transgression” is an intentional trespass. We are not to repeat the sins of others even if they were egregious. The closest of friends have been divided by words repeated that should have been buried.
I have had several close friends that were colleagues in ministry and because of sin they resigned their ministries. Almost inevitably they resign their former friendships as well. They simply cut off the friends of many years. There are a lot of reasons why, but I think one of the major issues is one I heard years ago at a pastor’s conference.
The host of the conference said, “The reason so many preachers fall off the radar and you never hear from them after they have sinned is that they know that other preachers are talking about them the way they used to talk about people like them”. I think he is exactly right. It is my goal to be loyal to the person absent when he or she is being criticized.
If we knew how powerful our words are we would watch them more carefully. I often tell my children, “Little things have big consequences”. The same is true of our words, little words have big consequences. The Bible says that “the tongue is a little member”, but warns “how great a matter a little fire kindleth”. (James 3:5) A small spark can create a roaring forest fire that is destructive to property and life.
The way gossip is spread is not through a person speaking to a crowd, but one-on-one or in a very small group. The Bible teaches that “a whisperer separateth chief friends”. (Proverbs 16:28). The word “whisper” means “to speak with soft, hushed sounds”. Louis Nizer said, “Some people will believe anything if you whisper it to them”.
I have learned that if someone will whisper negative things about people to me that they will also whisper negative things about me to other people. Love won’t do that because it “rejoiceth not in iniquity” (I Corinthians 13:6).
The name “Satan” means “slanderer”. This is the way he operates; he lies to us about sin and it’s consequences. He also slanders us to God. When we slander and speak against others we are behaving like Satan.
Some would say it is alright to speak negative words if they are true. Satan is called the “accuser of (the) brethren” (Revelation 12:10). Most of his accusations he brings to God about me are true, not false.
Truth is not the only determination for our words. What we say is to be guided by love (Ephesians 4:15). Love will keep us from saying anything negative at all most of the time. (Remember, the guideline for sharing negative information is if the individual is a part of the solution or has a need to know – not just because it’s interesting or juicy).
Some have ears that are like a garbage can – receptacles for that which is trash. They delight in what is negative and have a reputation for being that way. They are like Alice Roosevelt Longworth who said, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me”.
I heard about someone with a serious personal problem that told a friend with the caveat, “Don’t tell anyone else about this, please”. Later, the individual discovered that their friend indeed had passed on the private information as others were talking about it. He went and confronted his friend about sharing something private requesting him not to do so. Their friend said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I told them not to tell anyone”.
It’s like a chain that is linked together. Everyone knows someone else that will keep their confidence, but the final result is that what was supposed to be private is now public information.
One motivation for not passing on bad information is the awareness of how our words hurt and wound a person. The Bible says, “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly”. (Proverbs 18:8) They don’t wound the body, but the soul of a person.
The word “belly” was used in that day to refer to one’s mind. Hurtful words stay with us and reside in the deepest part of our heart. I know because I have stayed awake at night rehearsing negative things that have been said to me or about me.
I wonder if I have kept friends awake because of words I shouldn’t have said about them. I know for a fact that I have said hurtful things to Paula and my children that I wished I had not said. I love my friends and my family very much, but my words sometimes makes them feel unloved. Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity”.
“I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody”. (Benjamin Franklin)
With God’s help, let’s make that the same resolution. It would be the loving thing to do.