“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is thehead, into Christ.” Proverbs 16:20,28 ; 1 Timothy 5:13; Ephesians 4:15
Amy Carmichael, missionary to Dohnavur, India in the first half of the twentieth century, trained her orphanage mission workers in the use of their tongues: “Never about, always to.” What misunderstandings, regret, and hurt could be avoided if we followed her advice! In the workplace, within a family, among friends or neighbors, when our talk is ‘about,’ often there is no solution, but only a riling up of negative opinions and criticism or a fostering of unflattering, degrading talk. It has been said, “gossip is confessing another’s sins behind their back.” Many reputations have been stained by quick slips of the tongue, mentions ‘about’ others, even hearsay, that plant a seed in the imagination that grows a life of its own, especially if it is repeated again.
What compels us to speak ‘about’ others instead of ‘to’ them? Do I fear direct confrontation or conversation because I might be proved wrong? Do I want to be sought out as the know-it-all dispenser of information, elevating self at another’s expense? Is there an undercurrent of wanting people on my side, and pitting them against others’? Am I entertaining a superior attitude over those I deem somehow “less,”? Seldom do we regret being silent.
In God’s economy, the only side we are on is His. Speaking ‘to’ allows honest discussion from both parties with respect, and the chance to learn from body language and express palpable compassion and love. Speaking directly with the offender or offended brings understanding and opens the way for forgiveness, repair of broken communication or hurt feelings. It also necessitates my humble preparation of my own heart so I can face up to my part in any disagreement or miscommunication. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Lord God, guard my tongue, and the heart that fuels it! May I courageously say no to talking about those not present, and yes to speaking to any I should address. Please purify my words that they edify others and bring glory to You. (Luke 6:45)