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Taming The Tongue

The tongue is a powerful tool given by our Lord to do much good but it is capable of much evil as well.  James writes in the third chapter that from the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.  He then writes, “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:10).  Unfortunately, too often this is exactly how it is in too many cases.  Earlier in the chapter James say, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (James 3:2 ).  Not perfect as in sinless, but perfect as in mature and stable.  Notice that the one who controls the tongue is able to control the entirety of his body.  Think about that a bit and you can begin to see how your mouth is either the gateway toward greater holiness or lack thereof.

I wrote here, here, and here on the nature of the sin of gossip, along with its friends the tale-bearer, the slanderer, and the accuser.  Cheap words flowing from a mouth that is not brought under the control of the person through and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is none who have never done these things, but there are some, many perhaps who are known by these things.  That is the basic difference between the one who gossiped and the one who is a gossip.  One has on occasion done so and the other is known for it.

So how do you begin to bring your tongue under control?  What steps do you need to take to finally put this behind you?  The following points are brief but designed to give a reader the essential tools necessary to be known as one who speaks truth and has a tongue that drips with grace rather than accusations.

  1. Pray.  Commit this to the Lord, confessing your tendencies and sparing no punches as you lay out your needs to Him.  Pray for a sensitive spirit and pray to use the fulness of God’s provision that is already yours to its fullest in your battle.
  2. Remember that you are battling forgiven sin.  Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into an up and down emotional state because you did good one week and bad the other.  Remember that your Father is urging you along just as your would urge your little one to keep persevering in taking his first little steps.  You are His delight because you are in His Son.
  3. You must love the unity of the Spirit over the information you may have on a person.  This is evidenced by pursuing humility, gentleness, patience and tolerance all conformed under love (Ephesians 4:1-3).  This means you need to ask before you talk if what you are going to tell someone else will help promote these things or distract.  And if you can’t give a firm “yes” to the positive side then you simply don’t say anything.
  4. You must put it off by putting on a habit of godly speech.  Ephesians 4:29 makes it clear, it is not sufficient to not speak unwholesome words, but instead you are to speak for the goal of building up the other person.  And even then you are to speak about something because you believe it will give grace to them as is needed at that time of hearing.  In other words, the best way to kill it is to fill your mouth with godly, gracious speech.
  5. Stop being around people who have the tendency to gossip.  And stop lying to yourself that they are your friends and that you don’t want to hurt them.  The reality is that a person takes on the qualities of those he associates with.  Take to heart the strong words of God in Psalm 50:16-23 and tremble when you regard those with whom you choose to associate.
  6. Stop thinking you can change a gossip on your own if you just “love” them enough.  Proverbs 22:24-25 is easy to understand but it takes courage to implement, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man,  Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself.”
  7. Decide to read one chapter of Proverbs every day.  Pick one proverb that relates to speech out of that chapter to meditate, review and even memorize each day, but most of all practice it.  In one month’s time you will have a very different outlook on the nature of speech for God is faithful to bring opportunities for you to practice those proverbs each day.
  8. If you find out that you had gossiped then go back to the person you spoke to and seek their forgiveness.  If you believe it is necessary go back to the person about whom you spoke and tell them what you said and seek their forgiveness.
  9. Ask your spouse, parent, or best friend to be ruthless with you as they hear you speak.  Urge them to challenge your words and the value or intent behind them.

I want to have ten points but frankly I am out of time.  At the same time, you devote yourself to these nine points and you will do fine.  OK, here is a tenth one: Have a long view about this whole battle.  Commit your heart to desire to become an older woman or man who draws younger people to you simply because you exude graciousness in spirit and speech.  That means that you must start right away so that in five or ten years you will have earned the reputation of a person of upright speech.

UPDATED:  forgot some links.

One Is The Loneliest Number

For those who are around my age, or who have parents who force them to endure classic rock radio stations while on family road trips, the title is easily recognized—Three Dog Night and their single, One.  Being alone is hard.  Even for the hardcore introvert loneliness eventually weighs them down.  In the days of Israel belonging to your family, tribe and nation was everything.  God worked among His people as a corporate people rather than just through private, individual relationships.  He does the same in the Church.  Almost every verse I hear people claim people  as “their” verse has a corporate perspective rather than a personal one.  The images of a flock, a building, a temple and a body all remind us that we do not exist alone.

For the Israelite, aside from being executed for a high crime, the worse thing to happen was to be cut off from the people.  No relationships and no access to God through the Temple and festivals and such.  In the Church again we have similar realities.  The bible speaks of the unrepentant sinner as being viewed as a tax-gatherer and Gentile (terms that speak of avoidance and even disdain). We are commanded to avoid, reject, do not associate with nor even eat with those who don’t  repent of sin while professing Jesus as their Lord.  And the purpose is not one of self-righteous judgment, looking down our collective noses at the person; rather, it is to bring purity and seriousness into the Body of Jesus Christ while conveying to the person that fellowship has been lost and that they must repent and return.

Gossip, slander and tale-bearing are sins that are popular in the church today.  They are not “bad” ones in the eyes of many and are seen as relatively innocent issues.  But when you begin to consider the Word of God a very different picture emerges.  The gossip and slanderer are people who create divisions and factions in the church.  Galatians 5 clearly says that those who do such things are operating under the power of sin rather than the Holy Spirit.

Friendships and relationships are devastated by people of this ilk.  Proverbs 16:28 tells us that they are twisted and perverse as they separate intimate friends with their tongue.  A mark of a true friend is that they cover a transgression rather than reveal it because of love, but the one who repeats a matter creates a division among friends (Provers 17:9).  (Note: this covering is not pretending it didn’t happen but not repeating it to others for the purpose of gossip.)  This is why Solomon tells us that they are untrustworthy for they love to reveal secrets (11:3).

All of this brings us back to loneliness.  The bible makes it clear that avoidance and rejection is the only appropriate response when you realize that a person is a gossip or slanderer.   In Proverbs 20:19 the slanderer is the one revealing secrets that are not his to tell.   The answer is to not associate with him.  Titus 3:10 commands us to reject the one who brings divisions into the church.  There is no room here for equivocation, if this is a person who is known to be gripped by gossip and slander then if they do not listen to your caution and reproof you are to avoid them.

Why?  Let me give a short list of reasons:

    1. It preserves your heart from bitterness both in being betrayed by them and by being pulled into the sin as well.
    2. It preserves the church from unnecessary strife and stress, helping build unity and care for all who come.
    3. It gives the gossip no place to find a willing ear.
    4. It may cause the gossip to stop and consider how they have fallen.  To look around and see that they are truly alone and seek to repent and come back into the fellowship of the Spirit.

Tomorrow I will give some biblical advice on putting this sin to death in your own life.

A Tongue and A Holy Hill

The title seems a bit vague doesn’t it?  But it is not.  Yesterday I wrote an introductory post on the nature of the noxious and notorious sin of gossip.  I used strong words because our Lord uses strong words.  One of the challenges of teaching and preaching is to not inadvertently reduce the impact of the Word of God’s terminology.  We must let it say what it says and deal with it there.  And when the bible talks about gossip, slander, tale-bearing, and accusations there is little kindness exhibited.

Hear first the Word of our Lord from Psalm 15):

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.
He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD;
He swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.

David speaks of God’s tent and God’s holy hill and they refer to the tabernacle of God and Mount Zion where it would rest until the Temple was built.  It speaks to the presence of God and the ability to dwell with God.  Who is welcomed by God as a worshiper?  That is what is being asked.

To understand this rightly we must remember that it is written to people who belong to the covenant of Moses.  It is not written to those outside of Israel as an invitation to come and worship, but to those who are already “inside.”  But, of course, many in Israel were inside in name only for their hearts were far from God.  And so, in this Psalm, David gives clear instruction as to those whom God receives as worshipers.

Notice that it is focused on character and not position, wealth, power, poverty, or anything else external of the heart.  It is interested in the state of the heart and the overflow of that heart into their lives.  There are six couplets that define a person who is welcomed by God to come and worship:

  1. He approaches life with a seriousness about his works (2a)
  2. He uses speech for righteous reasons (2b-3)
  3. He treats his fellow man properly and respectfully (3b-c)
  4. He is known by those with whom he associates (4a-b)
  5. His word is good (4c)
  6. He is not a lover of money (5a-b)

Now all of these are worthy of expansion but I only will give my attention to the second point.  David deals with the internal speech first (2b).  It is a uprightness of speech and it is that hidden speech that is in his heart.  God despises hypocrisy.  Many a person can smile with his mouth and snarl in his heart.  Many can say the right thing because he is supposed to, but in his heart hate and despise.  But not one who wishes to worship.

Now David consider the external speech (3a). The slanderer’s tongue is a great evil. Slander is speaking that which is false with the intention to hurt.  It is different from gossip, which is speaking that which is true with the intention to hurt–though there is certainly overlap and usually both are present at the same event.

Gossip and slander has many great allies today to help them spread: Text messages, blogs, emails and the ubiquitous cell phone. It is interesting that alongside the grievous sins of sexual immorality and homosexuality listed in Romans 1, that Paul adds the slanderer and the gossip.  The KJV translates them as “whisperers and backbiters.”  J. B. Phillips does it even better by doing, “”whisperers-behind-doors, stabbers-in-the-back.”

Understand this and understand it well, you cannot come to God and worship if your tongue and your heart are filled with hate and evil speech.  You cannot get off the phone having shared your supposed prayer requests and then have a good quiet time with God.  Therefore it is worth one’s time to consider if their lack of spiritual growth is due to a mouth that causes them to be far from God.

The true worshiper has much in which to hope (5c).  He will never be shaken.  There is a depth and stability that comes with being a man or woman of faithfulness and righteousness.  The big talker is just that, a big talker; cheap, they are a dime a dozen. But a faithful person is a rare jewel who is to be treasured.

How are you approaching life?  Are you digging a deep foundation that is upon the Rock of Jesus Christ?  Are you preparing for the storms of life by storing up wisdom now? The promise is certain, you will never be shaken and you shall withstand all that this world shall hurl at you.

What about those who are caught up in gossip and slander?  Recognize that it is deadly and soul-destroying.  Recognize that you are not welcomed by God to come and worship.  You need to set aside your bible and your notes and go be reconciled.  You need to separate from fellow gossipers and you need to begin to put on good, grace-filled language that is timely and beautifully adorned by one established by the gospel of Jesus.

Like Foxes with Tails on Fire

For over 16 years I have pastored and only in one church.  Before that I was a chaplain for the L. A. County jail system and in charge of “SuperMax” where the bad guys are locked up.  I have seen and heard every possible thing one can see or hear.  Toss in that I was also a police officer and you get the picture.  I am saddened by sin but I am seldom shocked or surprised.  I have met with murderers, rapists, molesters and thieves.  I have counseled people through all of the sins listed in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5.  But there is one sin that I find so pernicious and so exhausting that I have little tolerance when it rears its face.  It is the vile sin of gossip and its twin sister slander.

gossipIn Judges 15 Samson ties a torch between the tails of two foxes, three hundred in total, and lets them loose to wreak havoc on fields of the Philistines.  That is what happens when gossip is entertained and left unchallenged, that tongue that James says is full of restless evil (3:8) creates a firestorm in the Body of Christ and all that remains afterward is scorched lives of the Lord’s redeemed.  It is evil and it is to have no tolerance in the Church.

Revelation 12:10 speaks of Satan as the accuser and that is what slander and gossip do, they accuse a person of something without them being there to defend their character.  The gossip partakes in a work that does not befit their calling as a child of God.  That alone should be enough to make many clap their hands over their lips and run to the cross of Christ.  This is why Paul commands us to lay aside slander from our lips.  It grieves the Spirit and it is in keeping with the expectation to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (cf Ephesians 4:17, 31).  The answer that he gives to stop it?  “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you”  (Ephesians 4:32).

Proverbs tells us that like a fire without wood, so strife without the “whisperer” goes away (26:20).  And I can say from many examples of confronting and disciplining gossips this is true every time.  Titus 3:10-11 is utterly, ruthlessly blunt.  “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning,  knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”  If I was the one who said these words I am certain many would caution me of being harsh in my spirit, fortunately I can point to our ever gracious Holy Spirit and tell them to deal with Him.  The gossips, slanderers, tale-bearers, accusers and whisperers are all from the same factious, divisive cloth.  There is no place for them to find rest and peace in the Body of Jesus Christ unless they repent.  Until then we need to learn to use God’s words regarding them, “perverted” and “self-condemned.”

And our response to those who tenaciously hold on to their vile words?  Rejection.  Not “prayer partners.” Not Facebook friends.  Not, I-am-going-to-keep-on-with-my-relationship-because-I-want-to-show-the-love-of-God-to-them type of relationship.  You reject them.

One postscript to this little post.  Much like Paul says to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5 about not associating with the immoral person; I do not mean the world, but those who claim Christ.  The world is filled with gossips and we work among them but we must never partake with them of that sin.  But for those who profess to be disciples of Jesus?  You reject them.

As an old friend used to say, “easy peezy.”

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