The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:35-37 NIV).
Gossip is a great time-killer, for those who have it to kill. It is also a great people-killer. Oh, not outright. Sometimes it takes years for that titillating and scintillating bit of slander to take its toll. When the person finally dies of heartbreak, no one understands. Why should they? After all, who remembers the stone that was first thrown: the lie or innuendo that started the slow ripple and agonizing death of one's trust and love?
I have a friend whose marriage is a see-saw affair, and I was having rather uncharitable thoughts myself about a woman who acted my friend when with me, and then spoke with forked tongue when with other mutual friends of ours. One day Mary Fran and I delved into our subjects with our own forked tongues. Mary Fran is married to Chief Black Cloud, a nickname her sons gave their dad. Chief Black Cloud's fuse is quite short, and one of the older boys crowned his dad with that inglorious title after the boy left home and discovered that merrier hearts do exist in this vale of tears.
Mary Fran told me about her system to keep sanity and humor intact. Years before she had bought three silly-looking but marriage-saving statues, one with the word "Peace," another, "I Love You This Much" and the third one, "I'm Sorry." Depending on how much static is clogging the line of communication, that is how many statues that land on the bed that day. The "Goofies," as Mary Fran nicknamed them, have saved many an argumentable and lamentable day.
We discussed the red-flag words and phrases that cripple family relationships in particular. These are, among many, "You never..." and "You always..." These are sure-fire losing combinations! These flags are waved when the white flag of reconciliation is most needed: when mommy is sagging from a 28-hour day with hyper and ventilating kids; when daddy arrives home from the job breathing fire at his boss's or his spouse's incompetence, etc. For ten inexplicable reasons rolled into the one of human nature, this is when we slap each other with the always and the nevers, the you-shoulds and I-woulds: the negatives that have others feeling stupid. One man I know asks his wife and children how it feels to be uncoordinated whenever they have their few minor mishaps. Perhaps this is supposed to keep them all on their toes! They had a perfect chance to get even when the man almost lost his thumb in a tractor accident, but charity won out.
Mary Fran said there are days when she wants to retaliate in kind, but decided it is best to be kind." Years ago I read something that touched me deeply. The book was written by a Christian psychologist. He said it has been proven that the finest feeling follows the finest doing." It works for her. It should work for us all.
I am a fortunate owner of the American Edition of the works of Martin Luther. He had much to say on gossip and its terrible by-products. Luther pointed out that when we gossip we are doing Satan's chores for him. He related the incident, possibly fact but more probably fiction, of a couple so happily married that it was the talk of the town. The devil couldn't cause disharmony between them, but he finally hit upon the trick: he sent an old hag to the wife to tell her that her husband was having an affair with another woman and planned to kill her and that she would find a knife under his pillow. She then hurriedly went to the husband with the same terrible tale. Unfortunately for the wife, the husband found her knife first, and that was the end of the town's happiest marriage. There are several vital lessons here: poisonous tongues kill; Satan is behind the rotten tongue; trust your partner; and check your sources.
Gossip is verbal interest in the failings of others rather than their feelings. Our own faults should keep us busy enough praying to a forgiving and forgetting Father and offering prayers of thanksgiving that He so willingly overlooks our own many malpractices of tongue. Church members are especially astute at weeding out others' grubby little sins. There is nothing like one's own righteousness to highlight the other person's lack of it. "They who are free from the grosser sins, and even bear the outward show of sanctity, will often exalt themselves by detracting others under the pretence of zeal, whilst their real motive is love of evil-speaking" (Calvin).
In his superb booklet, Bones in The Church, J.L. Tucker told of a dear old Black minister who preached from 2 Peter 2:1 where it says that in the last days "damnable heresies" will come in, only the preacher kept calling it "damnable heresays." After the service he was accosted by one of his more enlightened deacons who told him that the verse says "damnable heresies." The pastor, knowing more about the church than the deacon, retorted, "It isn't the heresies that are bothering this church, it's the heresays." Elder Tucker also warned the jawbone people about depriving the minister of his greatest value: his influence. The parents and children who attend church and then come home and dissect the sermon and the minister can undo in one afternoon what a minister has spent years in prayer, time and tears so he can bring a message of comfort and hope to his flock. The parents may wonder years later why their son or daughter left the church.
A rattlesnake warns before he strikes. We don't bother to give warning; we strike in the act of rattling and tattling. As Christians who look forward to the joys of eternal life, it is imperative that we resolve our differences while bound to earth. Paul was most concerned about this, for in his day Christians faced outside forces and they needed moral and physical stamina that could not be wasted on intra-family and intra-church squabbles. Besides, what positive effect could gossip, envy and all the debris that collects from an unconverted heart have on those "unconverted" who, in many instances back then as well as now, acted more Christian than those who claimed to be such?
Paul, ever concerned about his dear flock, admonished his Corinthian flock: "For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder" (2 Corinthians 12:20 NIV). One commentator lists eight specific evils of this church: strife, suspicion, spleen, selfishness, slander, scandal-mongering, super-egoism and sulkiness, and suggests that the serpent's hiss could still be heard at Corinth. Is it possible that the serpent's hiss is heard in our homes and churches? God forbid!
Dr. James T. Jeremiah of Cedarville College in Ohio gave an apt description of the backbiter: "It has been suggested that biting is not always done with the teeth. The tongue feels soft compared to your teeth, but it is twice as sharp. A backbiter is not a person who bites back, but one who bites behind your back. We need to be careful of all our words. The following poem by Unknown should help us to reflect before we flex our vocal cords to shoot out words we mean or don't mean:
Remember, three things come not back;
The arrow spent upon its track.
It will not swerve, it will not stay
Its speed. It flies to wound or slay.
The spoken word so soon forgot by thee;
But it has perished not.
In other hearts 'tis living still,
And doing work for good or ill.
And the lost opportunity,
That cometh back no more to thee;
In vain thou weepest, in vain doest yearn;
These three will never more return.
In extensive reading on this abhorrent habit, it became clear that gossip is compensation for an inferiority complex. But it is so self-defeating. The sad outcome is the hopelessness engendered by the individual who, in an attempt to pull himself together by ripping others apart, only serves notice that he can't be trusted and soon finds loneliness an unwelcome companion. Then he vents what he feels is justified anger on those who no longer share because they don't wish to have any more chunks taken out of their reputations and motives.
I suppose one could say that of itself gossip is harmless, just as arsenic of itself can be used to kill weeds. Unfortunately, with gossip, in the detailing and retailing of it, we have the all-too-human tendency to add a pinch here and a cupful there. Gossip by its very nature must be subjective, for there is simply no way that we can know all the facts of a person's life. Even if we did, these facts would be colored by our own personal attitudes and experiences.
Most of us have played the childhood game of standing in a circle and passing along a statement of fact or fancy started by player number one. The final result always produced amusement and amazement by the time it got to player number fifteen or twenty. The game is funny, but the reality of gossip can range from mild reaction to vicious action.
Today I can laugh at an incident that happened years ago when I went grocery shopping with the then only three of my eventual five sons. While going about the business of getting groceries for my family, with the help of my three little ones, a woman came up to me and announced that I was pregnant. "I have my knowledge on good authority," to quote Mrs. Busybody. I wasted valuable time trying to convince her that to my apparently limited knowledge I was not; that perhaps her informant had omniscient powers that I thought only God possessed. When I was finally able to return to the more important matter of grocery shopping, I still had not convinced her. If this lady had been stuck with my issues to raise and educate, then she would have had ample excuse for such concern, but I hardly knew her.
There are three areas in which we can judge our tendency to gossip, and three tests by which we can judge the seriousness of our gossip. In the areas we have:
2) people; and
Which one of these is most appealing to us? I believe this is the right order, too. In our thing-oriented society, we often find ourselves discussing the externals of life and ways to obtain and maintain them. If we choose people, it should be to talk with them, not at them or about them. If we talk about ideas, then we discuss ideals, certainly something to be commended in this day of deteriorating ideas and ideals both.
The three tests of gossip are:
1) is it true;
2) is it really necessary and constructive to the welfare of them and us to repeat this? and
3) is it done out of love.
If these three criteria--and it must be all three--can't be satisfied, then it is far better to bury the morsel six feet under our memories and leave the judging (which is what gossip is) to God, who long ago forgave and forgot.
One of my favorite verses is 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Surely saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way is unrighteousness. And for some of us, when we have been so unrighteous as to do in a friend or even an enemy, it is so difficult for us to grasp the concept of total forgiveness. If we are so fortunate as to have finely attuned consciences, we feel that we have done the ultimate; perhaps committed the unpardonable sin because of the consequences to that person. In dealing with the temptation and even the unfortunate fact of hanging another rumor on the grapevine, this verse can help. God does forgive! I doubt there is a person reading this who has not regretted something said in anger, frustration, resentment, haste or whatever. There are varying degrees of results of our lack of discretion and sins of the tongue, too. We drop the pebble of hate, hostility, innuendo, jealousy or wounded pride, and the ripple effect reaches to the very gates of heaven itself.
Exactly where is the beginning of war, divorce, teenage rebellion, murder, suicide? Where do we find that feather of a word that has become a very sword? How grateful I am that God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of the sins of our tongues, but unfortunately He cannot go around the world gathering up what our winds of words have scattered over the airwaves.
As regards our being the subject of gossip, the most charitable remark I ever heard from a victim was from the lips and heart of a precious old lady whose life was a very model of Christian love. She lived in a high-rise for senior citizens. One day she told me that she was the latest morsel in the jaws of the character assassins; why, she nor I understood. She decided it was because the folks had nothing better to do and, besides, "If they aren't talking about me, they'll be talking about someone else, so that's all right." Such compassion!
Unless we see the circumstances in another's life, we can cause that person immeasurable and irreparable injustice. For years I heard relatives criticize the wife of one of their own. The lady lived in another state, so I believed what was said about her. When she and her husband retired and we eventually got to know each other, I saw the side that apparently the rest of her family didn't take the time to investigate: a warm, gentle and kind lady with talents unrecognized and unappreciated except by her children. She was at our house one evening and made a cutting remark about herself. I told her that she had been listening too long to those who didn't even know her. It's wonderful how differently we feel when we get to know others, and to understand the sums of their sorrows and the divisions of their emotions. We give second thought before we express our objections to their abjections. And we are most fortunate if they grant us the same courtesy.
In his morning watch book, Prepare the Way, Joe Engelkemier tells of a discussion about electronic devices, and mention is made of the possibility of a device being developed by which men could catch up with all the words said in the past so that history could be heard again. Perhaps it is in the realm of possibility. Who would have thought 50 years ago that television would be so common (who would have thought 30 years ago that television would become so common!)? It's a sobering thought that every idle and nasty word we speak may be floating out there in space to accuse us. Besides, God's Word warns us that we will have to give an account of all our words, whether they are electronically frozen or not: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). So we should pray, "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3 NIV). Proverbs 18:21 warns us that "the tongue has the power of life and death..." If we are to be justified or condemned by our words (Matthew 12:37), then life and death are indeed in the power of our speech.
In the great book of James we learn, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26 NIV). The tongue is just another organ of the body devoid of a moral quality until we use it to express thought and feeling. Then it becomes the most powerful weapon we have as Christians. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said to Tabbai his servant: 'Go and buy me good food in the market.' He went and bought him tongue. He said to him: 'Go and buy me bad food in the market.' He went and bought him tongue. Said he to him: 'What is this? When I told you to get good food you bought me tongue, and when I told you to get bad food you also bought me tongue!' He replied: 'Good comes from it and bad comes from it. When the tongue is good there is nothing better, and when it is bad there is nothing worse.'" (Misrash Rabbah, The Interpreter's Bible, V.4, page 890.)
I KNOW SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT YOU
Wouldn't this old world be better
if the folks we meet would say,
I know something good about you
And then treat you just that way?
Wouldn't it be fine and dandy
If each handclasp were warm and true,
carried with it this assurance,
I know something good about you?
Wouldn't life be lots more happy
if the good that's in us all
Were the only thing about us
that folks would bother to recall?
Wouldn't life be lots more happy
if we praised the good we see?
For there's such a lot of goodness
in the worst of you and me!
Wouldn't it be nice to practice
that fine way of thinking, too.
You know something good about me;
I know something good about you!
Some of our good folk feel that it is necessary to be brutally frank. The truth must be told, at all costs! The cost may be too dear for them, finally. These well-meaning souls would profit from reading Proverbs 15:23: "... How good is a timely word!" I read of an elderly lady who had lived enough years to know the difference between the whole truth and nothing but, and that words fitly spoken should be spoken at a fit time. She gave this excellent advice to her grandchildren: "Always tell the truth, but don't always be telling it." For the sake of peace and harmony in the circles in which we go around, "There is a time to be silent and a time to speak..." (Ecclesiastes 3:7b NIV). Those who preface and dot their sentences with "truth be told" may be applying a double-edged scissors to a good friendship.
"Jesus exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention, in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness" and "No one has ever been reclaimed from a wrong position by censure and reproach; but many have thus been driven from Christ and led to seal their hearts against conviction. A tender spirit, a gentle, winning deportment, may save the erring and hide a multitude of sins. The revelation of Christ in your own character will have a transforming power upon all with whom you come in contact" (E.G. White).
"She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26 NAS). Years ago I read a lament by a leading society matron on the death and burial of simple courtesy. "Why is everyone so aggressive?" she asked. Those appealing words "Please" and "Thank You" have been entombed along with the social discretion of minding one's own business. To have a kind and pleasing tongue is to have a golden gift. James tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), so perhaps in our morning petitions we should request a tongue coated with gentleness, goodness and kindness. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7). That is what kindness is: mercy. "Kindness makes a man attractive" (Proverbs 19:22 TLB). "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6 NIV); "Words from a wise man's mouth are gracious ..." (Ecclesiastes 10:12 NIV); "The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary" (Isaiah 50:4 NIV); "May God who gives patience, steadiness, and encouragement help you to live in complete harmony with each other--each with the attitude of Christ toward the other" (Romans 15:5 TLB).
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). These verses encapsulate our Christian experience of both doing and saying. If we love as it is presented here, then we surely love as God requires us to do. Love becomes an active quality as we pray for others rather than curse them. Love bears all things and, in so doing, learns faith as a living reality. Love bears the name and reputation of others, and therefore shields and protects others from embarrassment and criticism. Love is not suspicious or cynical and therefore gives others the benefit of the doubt. It is a proven fact that if we treat others with respect and the assumption that they will act according to our good expectations of them, they will indeed. Even civil law says people are innocent until proven guilty; the uncivil say people are guilty until proven innocent; but the Christian assumes that people are innocent, because the Christian sees Christ in others.
Let us now consider peace. Again, James gives us excellent advice: "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:18). Jesus Himself told us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). Peace is one of the grand gifts of the Holy Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22 NIV). We are commanded, "Be at peace with each other" (Mark 9:50 NIV); "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18 NIV); "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy" (Hebrews 12:14 NIV).
The wise men of the world tell us we should ventilate, but our wise God asks us to cooperate. We are admonished to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14b NIV). Job knew the vexation of thoughtless words that overwhelmed rather than healed: "How long will you torment me and crush me with words?" (Job 19:2). And these were his friends! Instead of the contrition they so diligently sought from Job who they were so sure deserved all he got, they ended up having to swallow a large dose of bad-tasting submission for their troubles. Instead of soothing the poor man's soul with words of peace, they vexed him to pieces with needless and harmful platitudes, well-meaning such as they were. Certainly Job would have agreed with the provident counsel of 1 Corinthians 4:5: "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God." And poor Job would have deeply appreciated the following suggestion: "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2:7 NIV). Job devoutly wished that his friends would have judged his innocence rather than his presumed guilt, of which they readily informed him. "The only thing that can be said of them justly is that they were poorly equipped for their ministry of consolation. They were 'too white'; and the 'flower of life is red.' They lacked most where the need was greatest. The world perishes not of dark but of cold. The soul in its deep distress seeks not light but warmth, not counsel but understanding. If they had ever suffered any themselves, it might have been different."(Exegesis on Job, Interpreter's Bible, page 923.)
Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and He is the chief cornerstone and foundation of a building fitly framed together with those who long to promote unity. One of the fairest verses in all the Bible is Ephesians 2:14: "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility..." Words build walls of hostility, if we are not considerate and discriminating. It is so unfortunate that those who promote peace are so often called cowards, unrealistic and soft-hearted, when God calls these gentle souls His sons and daughters. That alone should motivate us to "seek peace and pursue it."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says of those who keep peace, "His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce all self-assertion, and quietly suffer in the face of hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate" (The Cost of Discipleship).
Martin Luther had much to say about our interpersonal relationships in his exegesis on the Sermon on the Mount. Luther was not a calm man so he no doubt had to deal with this in a vigorous way. Concerning Matthew 5:9 he states: "...The Lord here honors those who do their best to try to make peace, who try to settle ugly and involved issues, who endure squabbling and try to avoid and prevent war and bloodshed...he also gives help and counsel on the side of peace wherever he can..."
Luther's comment on those who gossip is less delicate: "These are really poisonous spiders that can suck out nothing but poison from a beautiful, lovely rose, ruining both the flower and the nectar, while a little bee sucks out nothing but honey, leaving the roses unharmed. That is the way people act. All they can notice about other people are the faults or impurities which they can denounce, but what is good about them they do not see. People have many virtues which the devil cannot destroy, yet he hides or disfigures them to make them invisible." In Luther's exegesis on Matthew 5:43-48, he gives this good advice: "My reply to someone else's hate or envy, slander or persecution should not be more hatred and persecution, slander and curses, but rather my love and help, my blessings and my prayers. For a Christian is the kind of man who knows no hatred or hostility against anyone at all, whose heart is neither angry nor vindictive, but only loving, mild, and helpful."
A study of John 3:17 would profit us all: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Further on in the book of John we read of the woman who was taken in adultery (John 8:11).This passage about those who would condemn is particularly touching. The Pharisees, in the hardness of their hearts and laws, sought not only to condemn the woman but to entrap Jesus in the process. The cunning Pharisees came up against the greater wisdom and love of Jesus, though, and He turned their weapons against themselves. Jesus' mission was and is to heal, not to wound; to comfort, not to punish; to reveal the impartial heart of His Father, not to execute the harsh judgments of partial men. In His dealings with these hypocrites, Jesus carried the problem out of the judicial sphere directly into the hearts of the accusers themselves. In His gentle way of dealing with sin, He awakened gratitude and repentance in the sinner, and He restored her self-respect and her hope. Jesus neither censured nor reproached, but neither did He justify her sin, but quietly told her to go and sin no more.
Another striking feature of this passage is the way Jesus dealt with the accusers themselves. His own nature of compassion and courtesy ruled out His treating the Pharisees as they so rudely treated the woman. Rather than rebuke them with the strong words they deserved, He maintained a calm dignity and, in writing on the ground what so struck their consciences, He spared them public exposure of their own sinful actions and attitudes. We should pray that we would be as tender and as gracious with our accusers! As Jesus was kind to sinners, so He asks us to be gentle with the tender feelings of others, for He Himself was the most tenderhearted Man on earth. He asks that we have patience with those who would injure by word or deed, and to be silent as He was silent under provocation. True, this is not humanly possible, but with Christ, all things are possible and even necessary if we are to be spiritually healthy.
"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44,45). This is totally contrary to human nature, and yet it is the Christian ethic of personal relations. It becomes a willing love, literally. We must will to love those who do not or cannot love, for reasons that we don't understand. It is only Jesus Himself who can enable to us to conquer our tendency to strike out with angry and bitter words in the face of another's hate. This is the one thing that makes us most like Jesus: the love we bear for those who seem least deserving of it. It issues into the action of prayer for them and, as we pray for them, our own heart blooms with understanding for them, and peace can again be restored to our hearts. If we must say words, then let them be of forgiveness and of God's love, and let us present that person to God as a friend. For those who seek revenge, this is the true revenge: agape love.
Abraham Lincoln, that grand peacemaker, shared these words for all ages, written from his own broken heart because of an uncivil war in which brother fought brother: "With malice toward none; with charity toward all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace." The peacemaker works alongside the Prince of Peace, and practices His presence always.
"Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman ..." (Psalm 15:1-3 NIV). Only those with the character of God will abide in His sanctuary. The only description that Jesus gives of Himself is found in Matthew 11:29: "I am gentle and humble in heart..." Can we be and do no less, if we love our Lord?
We must be acceptable in walk, work and word. Cuts from a knife heal, but we have no guarantee that cuts from our tongue will heal. I know a lady who shared a sad secret with me one day. She said the one thing she remembers her mother saying to her when she was a child is that she wasn't worth the powder to blow her up. That lady is 54 years old and still struggles with that terrible putdown, even though she is an accomplished and intelligent person. How tragic! We should beg God's forgiveness every night for every cruel word we say, especially within the family circle. With prayer love covers, but the wounded person is on guard from then on. We don't purposely stay around those who wittingly or unwittingly do harm to us, and this is precisely what happens, for none of us is immunized against the devilish venom in and of the tongue.
We should eagerly pursue the Love that forgives and forgets and goes forward in spite of great and small injuries. I read of a lady who managed to bury a grievous injustice by mentally digging a grave and quickly lowering into it the thing which wounded her unto a certain death if she didn't do something with it. She then covered it with white roses and forget-me-nots and quickly walked away. Finally she was able to sleep that sweet sleep of peace, and came to the point in her life where she couldn't even remember what had caused her such anguish. Oh! that we, too, could accept that grace of God which enables us to bury the hurts in our lives.
William Perkins (1558-1602) wrote timeless advice: "Despise not thy neighbour, but think thyself as bad a sinner, and that the like defects may befall thee. If thou canst not excuse his doing, excuse his intent which may be good; or if the deed be evil, think it was done of ignorance; if thou canst no way excuse him, think some great temptation befell him, and that thou shouldst be worse if the like temptation befell thee; and give God thanks that the like as yet hath not befallen thee." As that other timeless adage goes, "There but for the grace of God go I." But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have done as badly or worse than others.
Just as important as what we say is how we say it. If a parent, particularly, has a naturally stentorian voice, he or she will do the child a tremendous favor if the effort is made to cultivate a gentle and persuasive tone. There is a great difference between a command in a shattering yell, and a "Please, will you," said quietly and lovingly. In fact, "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
" (Ecclesiastes 9:17). This may seem a minor matter, but it is "the foxes--the little foxes--that spoil the vines" of love. Words especially can be sneaky foxes that come back to haunt us years later.
Our words must be measured and weighed ever so carefully in the balances and valences of life. It is sad enough to lose a heart-mate, whether spouse, child, relative or dear friend, through the expected vicissitudes of life, but to lose love's loyalty and concern because of an intemperate tantrum of the tongue is tragic indeed. And rattle-tattle is the midnight horror show. Pascal observed that if all persons knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world.
The book of Proverbs, a mini-course in our interpersonal relationships, warns that a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city (Proverbs 18:19).Once the die is cast, there's no doing away with the spot. Like Lady Macbeth, we can curse it, rub it and scrub it, but to no avail. Only God's love and mercy can forgive it, cure it or, better yet, prevent it in the first place.
"The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart." Thomas Adams.
"If, instead of a gem or even a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give." George MacDonald.
"Wisdom hangs up the thermometer at the furnace mouth, and regulates the heart." Spurgeon.
"A sharp tongue is the only edge tool that grows keener with constant use." Washington Irving.
"For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full and mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" James 3:16-18.
Dear Father, I beg forgiveness for all the uncharitable thoughts, words, and deeds of my life. Loose my tongue only in Your praise--never to hurt another heart. Give me insight to understand and to love. Let Your love make the difference so there will be no indifference to those in my life. Please, Lord, light my candle and enlighten my darkness. I thank You! Amen.
Patricia Erwin Nordman