In the last edition we looked at what I called the ‘power outages’ that are caused when people share with others things that are basically true, but in such a way as to damage someone else’s reputation – the wonderfully evocative Hebrew concept of Lashon hara. We are continuing this theme here by considering our need to “weigh” our words prayerfully before releasing them into the world.
In subsequent editions we will be looking at the beautiful opportunities we have to apply the mercy of God in all sorts of ways and situations – but for now it is worth catching up with something that causes not just ripples but full blown tidal waves in the Body of Christ. Words that have been spoken against us (whether heard by us or not) can have a devastating effect on our spirits. If this has happened to you, take time now to ask the Lord to spiritually brush their effects off you – and then pause and rest in the lovely thought that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, not even tribulation, distress, persecution, famine or the powerful peril of being spoken against.
A time will come when every tongue that slanders and falsely accuses will be silenced. It is always helpful when being on the receiving end of a false or twisted accusation to remember that Jesus has already been there and knows what it feels like, and that just because we are walking in His footsteps it is likely to come our way too – but these things still need lifting off in prayer!
Over the years Ros and I have often winced as we have heard sharp-edged ridicule demeaning people who should rather have been being encouraged. We have even witnessed it happening from pulpits as pastors have abused their position by carping and sniping at members of their congregation. Contempt is obnoxious to the Lord. St. Francis de Sales said of it:
“One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirizes and turns everything to ridicule. God abhors this vice, and sometimes punishes it in a marked manner. Nothing is so opposed to charity, much more to a devout spirit, as contempt and depreciation of one’s neighbour, and where satire and ridicule exist, contempt must follow. Contempt is therefore a grievous sin, and . . . ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word against our neighbour, inasmuch as when we offend him in any other way, there may still be some respect for him in our heart, but we are sure to despise those whom we ridicule.”
Lord, set out hearts free from all and any tendency to ridicule others – especially if we in any way occupy a position of ‘superiority’ over them which hinders their right to respond!
The wisdom of Yeshua ben Sirach
As a powerful antidote to the ways of the talebearer and the power of slander, we are sharing in this article some of Yeshua ben Sirach’s wisdom concerning the importance of guarding our heart and tongue. Sirach compiled the book of Ecclesiasticus, which can be found in both Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.
The book, also known as Sirach, may not have ‘made’ it to canonical status in Protestant versions, but the Anglican Church regards it as suitable for spiritual education, and the relative unfamiliarity of these verses can cause these pertinent truths to strike home with fresh vigour. The whole idea here is to take time to pray with Sirach that we should not give room in our hearts and mouths to scorn and disdain.
Oh for a sentry to guard my mouth
and a seal of discretion to close my lips,
to keep them from being my downfall.
Lord, Father and Ruler of my life,
Do not abandon me to the tongue’s control,
or allow me to fall on its account.
Oh for wisdom’s lash to curb my thoughts
and to discipline my mind,
without overlooking my mistakes
or condoning my sins! (Ecclesiasticus 22:27-28:2)
A lash from a whip raises a welt,
but the lash from the tongue smashes bones;
Many have fallen by the edge of the sword,
but not as many as by the tongue.
Happy he who is sheltered from its onslaught,
who has not borne its yoke or been fettered with its chain;
for its yoke is a yoke of iron and its chains are chains of bronze
and the death it inflicts is a miserable death.
It cannot gain a hold over the devout:
They are not burnt by its flames.
But those who desert the Lord fall victim to it;
among them it will burn like fire and not be quenched.
It will be let loose against them like a lion
and tear them like a leopard.
As you enclose your garden with a thorn hedge
and take care to lock up your silver and gold,
so weigh your words and measure them,
and put a door with bolts across your mouth.
Beware of being tripped by your tongue,
and falling into the power of a lurking enemy. (Sirach 28:17-26)
Being a mouthpiece for the Lord
True instruction was in Levi’s mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and peoples should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. (Mal. 2:6-7 ESV)
How can we be a mouthpiece for God as Levi was? By praying through the implications of the fact that Jesus says that it is our heart that determines what we say (Matt. 12:34). Our aim is for the Lord to make our word and attitudes winsome and convincing; the very opposite of strident and judgemental.
When a sieve is shaken, the rubbish is left behind; so too do people’s defects appear when they speak – especially when they argue. As the kiln tests the work of a potter, so too is person tested in their conversation. The fruit of a tree shows the care which that orchard has received; so too do words reveal what a person feels (Ecclesiasticus 27:4-6).
What does our conversation reveal about condition of our heart? Is the fruit of our talk sweet to the taste? May the Lord use the challenge of these verses to help us to find ways to speak kindly and empowering words. It is vital to remember the effect that speaking well about people can have. Just as Paul introduces his letters by affirming his fellow workers, may it be true of us that “The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me; [and that] His words are upon my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2) – especially if we are called 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).
And may we not lie, for ‘lying lips are an abomination to the Lord’ (Pr. 12:22). As Sirach reminds us, “Refuse to tell lies, for no good ever comes from such a habit (Ecclesiasticus 7:13).
A lie is a foul blot in a man, yet it is constantly on the lips of the undisciplined.
Lying is an abominable habit. The liar’s shame and disgrace can never be shaken off (Ecclesiasticus 20:24, 26).
When a godless man curses his adversary, he is really cursing himself. A tale-bearing slanderer besmirches himself and makes himself hated throughout the neighbourhood (Ecclesiasticus 21:27-28).
We have so many lovely things stored in our hearts, and so many lovely things about others that we could say; may we not revert to words and ways that are less lovely.
Wisdom from Sirach on avoiding becoming a gossip
Evil loses its hold on the man who hates gossip.
He who repeats an evil report has no sense.
Never repeat gossip, and you will not be reviled.
Unless silence makes you an accomplice, never betray anyone’s secret,
for someone has heard you and watched you,
and when the time comes will wait you.
Have you heard a rumour?
Let it die with you.
Be brave: it will not make you burst.
When a fool hears something, he immediately goes into labour, like a woman giving birth to a child.
Like an arrow lodged in the thigh is gossip in the breast of a fool.
Confront your friend with the gossip about him – he may not have done it; and if he did, he will know not to do it again.
Confront your neighbour – he may not have said it; and if he did, he will know not to say it again.
Confront your friend – it will often turn out to be nothing but slander; do not believe everything you hear.
Then, too, a man can slip and not mean it; which of us has not sinned with our tongue?
Confront your neighbour before you threaten him or break the friendship; this is the way to fulfil the law of the Most High (Ecclesiasticus 19:6-17).
Concerning the specifics of addressing the indiscreet person who has done the hurting, the following articles provide a helpful biblical starting point for looking at the matter of what constitutes gossip and slander as opposed to things that need to be shared. May we encourage you to follow up these link articles; it is not that there will be much there that you do not know, it is just they may serve to pull a few things together!
Sounding a genuine warning
Scripture allows for occasions when clear warnings need to be sounded. It is sneaky innuendos and outright falsities that it condemns. Mature discernment is needed here. In leadership positions, there are undoubtedly times when a “word to the wise” needs to be carefully communicated, between leaders of different church groups in a town if need be. We certainly used to do this when I was involved in the Chester city eldership, without it straying beyond proper boundaries into the realm of gossip and slander. It is such a fine nuance, but a vital issue that repays study to ascertain when grace and wisdom lie in overlooking a matter – and when more direct action is called for.
The following site is a comprehensive and helpful guide to the whole matter of slander, and well worth spending some time exploring.
As Leanne Payne reminds us, “God has an incredible way of turning our battle wounds into healing power for others.” The important thing is not to allow ourselves to retreat from the fray when we find ourselves under verbal attack. It can be decidedly intense and intimidating!
Sustain all today Lord, who are on the receiving end of false accusations and outright lies, and wounded by lies, truths that are presented in the wrong light, and by damaging half-truths and twisted misrepresentations. Bring truth to bear to vindicate their cause – no matter how long it takes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.