Lashon Hara – the malicious disseminating of damaging truths
The words of the mouth are deep waters (Prov. 18:4)! As surely as gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Prov. 16:24) the words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts (Prov. 18:8).
Lashon Hara is the Hebrew term to describe the malicious disseminating not so much of outright lies but of damaging truths. Whilst we are all familiar with the damage caused by the Accuser of the Brethren spreading outright lies and accusations, he often finds ways to inspire believers more subtly to fulfil his evil work. The Hebrew phrase lashon hara (Hebrew לשון הרע; “evil tongue”) is well known to those steeped in Judaism, and occurs when people tell basically true things about people but in order to make them appear in a bad light.
Scripture is full of commandments “not to go about as a talebearer” (Lev. 19:16, cf Lev. 19:12, 19:18) defaming people. Jesus hates it when people target others and tear them to pieces, and even take pleasure at seeing them land in trouble. I remember once praying with a pastor who had been driven to the brink of resigning his ministry as the result of being spoken against by some prominent people in his church.
As we prayed, the Lord showed clearly that the root lay in the conversations that an apparently mature group of people were having, during which they continually expressed not just legitimate concerns but strong judgements against their pastor and other spiritually sensitive people in the congregation. Known for their experience, and privy to sensitive information, they were in a particularly prominent position for spirits of division to be released to spread what amounted to highly concentrated acid.
Without wood a fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer or whisperer, strife and contention quiets down ((Prov. 26:20) Instead of taking their concerns and perspectives to the Lord in prayer and leaving them with Him, these people had taken to grumbling openly to all and sundry against the pastor and the other people who they felt irked with, casting their seeds of aspersion wherever opportunity presented itself – and even seemingly going out of their way to make and take such opportunities. An hour of fellowship with these ‘constant complainers’ left the reputation of truly heartfelt men and women of God torn to shreds, as they voiced their opinions and opposition, and thrust their faults and failings before the wider community, the apparent reliability of these people making their words so dangerous.
When I prayed with the discouraged pastor I knew the Lord was telling me to take authority over the influence these words were having on his (and his family’) life. There was a strong manifestation as I prayed – confirmation that something major was shifting. From that moment on the pastor entered a new and on-going phase of joyous freedom in Christ. Similar prayers were needed with equally dramatic results to release others in that congregation
I saw similar breakthroughs with various others who had started to feel totally limp as the result of spending time with these people, and increasingly wary of those they had previously trusted. May the Lord bring deliverance in Christ from all such pernicious influences. Sadly such episodes are more common in fellowships than they should be – except that their influence is not always recognised.
Scripture is quite clear on how important discretion is – and how to treat talebearers. There is a need to warn them what they are doing – but if that does not work to steer a wide berth away from them. “A talebearer reveals secrets, whereas he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips (Prov. 11:13, 20:19).
How what we say colours how we view people
Suppose somebody says to you, “Arthur is the most Christ-like person I have ever met!” Just think how that makes you look on Arthur from then on! But suppose instead they had said, “Arthur is not what he appears!” or to diss him in some other way. (Since the mid 1980s, to ‘diss’ means disparaging and showing them disrespect).
Whether out of schadenfreude (effectively a sadistic pleasure at portraying people in a bad light) or to compensate for something that is lacking in their own lives), such people are ever on the lookout for information which they can use not to convert into fervent prayer but to sow into the lives of people who have no need of knowing such things. Passing these snippets of information on has the potential to cause irreparable damage to someone’s reputation – so much so that the Lord warns clearly through His servant Paul: If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Gal 5: 15).
We must ask ourselves, therefore, in what light are we portraying people? As surely as Paul introduces most of his letters by commending his fellow workers, so may we find ways to praise and commend each other in ways that build up.
A story that says it all so well
Words once spoken are like seeds. If you have never come across the story of the feather pillow story we would highly recommend you reading it. It will only take a minute but if everyone in the church were to read and take it to heart, so much damage would be averted!
A Pillow Full of Feathers
Just as a tiny seed has the potential to push its way even through thick concrete, so words can continue to spread their poison, unless specifically rescinded by being brought to the stopping place of the Cross.
Whatever happened to considering others better than ourselves? (Phil. 2:3) And to Jesus’ command to love one another? (Jn. 13:34) This is no mere well wishing, it is a deeply felt injunction.
Authority to set the captive free
Words of criticism can enslave! To refer back to the feathers in the brilliant pillow story – none of us can pick up feathers that the wind has scattered, but that does not mean they are lost forever. There is a stopping place at the Cross – thank You, Lord! He can do what we cannot.
However great the power of these negative words, the power of the Word of God when released in the name of Jesus is infinitely greater. Some things He changes in just a moment of time; others, He takes time to undo. But let me stress again that simply praying about these situations would not have been enough; they needed the specific release of the “prayer of faith” and authority (James 5:15-16).
Making this personal
Can you think of times when you, or someone you know, has suffered as the result of being spoken against? The Psalmist knew this experience. They have said hateful things about me [surrounded me with hateful words] and attack (or beset) me for no reason (Ps. 109:3 EXB).
Is it time for you to pray and take authority to set yourself free from the effect of these words – or perhaps going to someone with spiritual authority to “loose the bonds from your neck” (Is. 52:2 RSV)?
Awake! Awake, Tziyon! Clothe yourself with your strength! Dress in your splendid garments, Yerushalayim, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean will enter you no more. Shake off the dirt! Get up, captive Jerusalem! Free yourself from the iron chains around your neck (Is. 52:1-2)
And when you hear someone speaking negatively against someone else, before swallowing it whole and letting it cloud your perception of that person, consider two things: firstly, there may be another side to the situation than the one you are being told. There often is (Prov. 18:17)! Secondly, is the person sharing these things with you generally reliable and perceptive? For whilst some people can read dynamics with remarkable accuracy, others regularly seem to grasp the wrong end of the stick and so misrepresent matters. And even when what they are saying may be basically true, is it a necessary word to the wise or something the other person simply doesn’t need to know? If so it comes into the category of lashan hara!
Let’s not look only at the specks in our brother’s eye. What have we said (and to who) about people whose outlook grates on us. Have we passed on unnecessary information, or barbed and critical words?
It may be too late to put the feathers back into the pillow, but we can most assuredly cry out to the Lord for forgiveness, and, wherever possible, ask forgiveness of the brother or sister we have misrepresented.
Father we cry to You now today, right now, that You will forgive us for the words that we have uttered that have hindered others. Set those we have spoken against free – and set us likewise free from the power of any ill wishing that has been directed our way. Let Your power accomplish this for You glory, so that we may utter words full of life from one day to the next and so be Your spokesmen (Jer. 15:19).
There is more to say on this subject, but for now, let’s rest in the lovely thought Paul presents us with, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, not even tribulation, distress, persecution, famine or, we might add, the peril of being spoken against. There will come a time when every tongue that accuses us falsely will be silenced and refuted (Rom. 8:34-39). None of these things can ultimately knock us out of the fray; only we can take ourselves out of it.
May we also be willing to “Speak up for the poor and helpless who cannot speak for themselves” (or who are being spoken against) in order to “ensure justice for those who are being crushed” (Prov. 31:8-9). In other words, let’s not allow this teaching about negative words to hold us back from sharing things that really do need sharing!
May it rather be true that “The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me; His words are upon my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Let’s make it our resolution to speak well about people, wherever and whenever we are able.
Above all, may we find ways to be kind. It seems fitting in the week that has seen Mother Teresa canonised, to end with her words: Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.