James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
James’ stern warnings against the tongue are nothing new. Given the power of the tongue that we observed last week, the abuses to which the tongue can be twisted have long been addressed by our Lord in His Word. The Old and New Testaments both are full of instruction regarding the use and abuse of the tongue.
In Psalm 15, for instance, the psalmist meditates on the type of person who shall be able to dwell in peace with God. His answer? “He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend.” The psalmist informs us in no uncertain terms that control of the tongue is one of the central virtues that will characterize he who desires to dwell with God. And those who backbite or who spread tales about others have no guarantee of a place in his temple.
This observation of the psalmist is itself based on God’s words to Moses in Leviticus 19:16. Listen to the Word of God:
Leviticus 19:16 (NKJV)16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
Smack dab in the middle of the law God included a prohibition against bearing tales – and, what’s more alarming, he links the telling of tales with premeditating murder. So why is the telling of tales so serious?
Solomon informs us in Proverbs 18:8 that, “8 The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.” The nature of tales is that they descend into the heart and cause suspicion and coldness to grow. Even though talebearing or gossip, as it is also called, does not always leave an outward wound, the internal damage it causes is extensive both for the one telling the tale and for the one hearing it. For though we find ourselves making light of the tale brought to our ears or even wholly despising it, nevertheless the poison works. “Suppose it should be true,” we say to ourselves. “Perhaps, though it may be exaggerated, there is some truth in what was said.” And this thought, indulged only for a moment, breeds suspicion, distrust, coldness and often ends in the separation of the most intimate companions. The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity.
What then is the solution? Well Solomon tells us quite plainly in Proverbs 11:13 – “A talebearer reveals secrets,” – that’s what he does. He or she goes about looking for tasty morsels to consume and after chewing on them awhile spits them out and shares them with his neighbor. Yum. But what’s the alternative? “But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” That’s the alternative. Don’t go blabbing about your friends’ faults; don’t reveal your grievances against your spouse; don’t advertise a minor indiscretion – conceal as much as possible. That’s what love does; that’s what a faithful spirit does. Is that what you do?
Reminded that we are often tempted to carry tales from one location to another, let us kneel and let us confess our sins to the Lord.