Days into our Proverbs study on speech, a real-life lesson presents itself. A last straw that opens wide my eyes to Loose Tongue Syndrome run rampant in my home.
“You can’t say anything,” the conversation starts, “but…” And the person launches into an emotional discourse that someone outside our family told someone in our family something bad someone close to our family said about some members of our family. Someone in my family carried the news home like a secret weapon to exact justice on the someone who talked about us behind our back. What starts as dust devil reaches tornadic proportions as news of the unflattering comments spreads through my home. Feathers ruffle. Tempers flare. Pride puffs its haughty chest. The heated moment produces fiery vows of blacklisting a friend, and God’s word proves true: “A whisperer separates the best of friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Sifting through the aftermath, I become increasingly troubled. It’s hard to confront what my family reflects of my own sin. As I talk with the Lord about how to handle what’s happened, the Holy Spirit brings specific scriptures to remembrance. The effect of sin elevates the importance of God’s word. Why He says what He says. Why He gives us guidelines for living and loving. And He brings to remembrance specific instances when I did not heed His word with my words. Ouch. Grief over my own actions mixes with sorrow over the circumstances I’m sorting.
What is at the heart of gossip? Judging another has to be high on the list of possibilities. Not to beat a dead horse, but if we’re honest with ourselves and with each other, gossip usually starts when someone reaches an opinion that someone or something is right or wrong. A judgment is made. Perhaps offense is taken. Pride is the culprit. Elevating oneself over another in one’s own estimation. Thinking another has no right to act a certain way. In order to judge, pride must be present. “When pride comes, then comes shame” (Proverbs 11:2). And then we share our opinions. The problem is, anything that leaves our lips is likely to return and bite us on the back end. Shame us. Like water that has spilled to the ground, we can’t recapture our words. Once pride’s opinion is shared with someone else, it can’t be taken back, just like God says: “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14).
I am the guiltiest of all. I am deeply convicted. I know of several friends reading this who could lodge complaints against me for this very offense. If you are one of those women, I ask you now, please forgive me. Oh how I desperately need God’s grace to train me in righteousness!
So what is the answer? God takes me to Matthew 18:15-17:
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Regardless of who did what, here’s the bottom line: A person, apparently unhappy with the behavior of someone in our family, took their complaint to someone else instead of straight to me or the person whose actions were rubbing them the wrong way. In an arson case, this would be called the origin of the fire. Unfortunately, the confidante wasn’t so confidential. In this instance, the damage was contained within my family. The fire was extinguished. Relationships preserved. This is not always the case.
I wish the person had come directly to me. In the instances for which I now must confess face-to-face and seek forgiveness, I wish I had done the same. Obeyed God’s word. Done things His way. There is now damage to repair.
This is a big deal. An important life lesson.
Proverbs 16:18 issues a warning for today’s Loose Tongue Syndrome symptom: “Pridegoes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
The rest of Proverbs 11:2 offers the antidote: “But with the humble is wisdom.” When we are modest, reserved, and unassuming – submitted to God, His will, and His ways – we will have the discretion we need to cautiously handle the practical matters of life and relationships. The discernment to follow the counsel of Proverbs 13:3: “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
So what do we do when we’re genuinely struggling in a circumstance or a relationship, when we’re not sure what to do or what to say, yet we genuinely desire to handle things God’s way? Can we not seek counsel from a godly friend? Can we not talk about it with others who can help us work it out? When is it okay? When does it cross the line?
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Lord, in the precious name of Jesus, please forgive us for the ways we despise You with our mouths, hanging onto pride and allowing destruction to come through our loose tongues. Help us to guard our mouths as we become more wholly Yours today.