Did your mother ever say to you, “if you ever say that again I’ll wash your mouth out with soap?”. My mother never said that to me, but I’m sure there were times when she heard me say things I shouldn’t have. You may have too—but there was a clear message that we have spoken wrongly, out of place, and should never speak like that again. We’ve all been guilty of bad talk. And no-one likes to be on the receiving end of a tongue lashing—you know when you’re told off or your friend lets you have it. And you feel very hurt at this verbal tongue lashing. I wonder how many people have been damaged by the tongue—maybe you know first hand what that’s like.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We said that as children to try and insulate ourselves from the hurtful words of others, but the truth is words can hurt! We need to be careful, then, how we use our words. Words can be used to encourage others and build them up. They can also be used to hurt others and tear them down. At times we’re all guilty of speaking hurtful words, thoughtless words, words spoken out of anger and frustration.
I can think of so many examples: A soccer coach says to his team of 14-year-olds, “You’re a bunch of idiots. You can’t do anything right.” A mother says to her children, “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have any children.” A girl screams at her mother, “I hate you!”
Words can hurt. Words can cut deep. Sometimes it’s the words themselves. Sometimes it’s the tone of our voice, the way we talk to others. That’s why the Bible encourages us over and over again to treat one another with kindness, gentleness, patience, and love. We need to really think about how we speak to others and about others. Another problem we have when we can’t tame our tongues is gossip. Gossip can be very hurtful, damaging, and, in some cases, fatal. So why is it so hard to tame the tongue?
The first is boredom. Many people are rather bored with life. We all have a desire for excitement. And it takes more and more to get us excited. Someone once said, “You can be bored by virtually anything if you put your mind to it.” Gossip is an attempt to inject a little excitement into life; to stir things up. But people get hurt and I’m sure God is not pleased with our behaviour.
The second motivation is a desire for attention. Those who gossip are attention seekers. The concern for self-interest as you and I gossip outweighs our concern for the plight of the people about whom we gossip. We don’t have the slightest intention of helping the person we are talking about. It’s simply an attention-grabbing device for ourselves.
Third, there is a desire for prestige. Most gossipers have a tremendous inferiority complex. “I know something you don’t know.” It bolsters our self-importance.
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The fourth motivation is a desire for security. We think by ripping someone else to shreds we can make ourselves feel better. This happens a lot in the world of politics. So often in political campaigns the candidates focus not on their own strengths and qualifications, but on the faults and failings of the other guy. Instead of, “This is what I will do”, it’s “This is what he has not done.”
So what can we do? There are three phases to gossip: the telling, the hearing, and the retelling.
Gossip will continue to be told. And there’s little we can do to stop hearing it. People will gather together and talk. But here’s the key: we don’t have to retell what we hear. We can stop the spread of gossip. And to do that, the Bible can help us. Life is a gift God has given us, and we need not be bored. We were made by God for a purpose, to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and he can help us love and care for others—each day, this day, is his blessing to us. We don’t have to focus on ourselves, but on others. That’s why Jesus said, “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”.
When we hear about the misfortune of some other person, true or not, we should pray for them, not talk about them. Because we are God’s children, holy and dearly loved, we don’t have to tear others down to make ourselves feel better. We can speak words that bless others, encourage others.
Proverbs 15:4 says, “Kind words are a good medicine. But deceitful words can really hurt”. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement once asked his people to live by 3 simple rules:
- Do no harm
- Do good
- Stay in love with God.
(To be continued in Taming Your Tongue – Part 2)