“The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, ” James alerted us in James 3:6 and not without reason. The Bible addresses our choice of words as well as the attitudes behind them. In no small way, the language of the human heart is discussed—so much so, that the writer to the Hebrews [in Hebrews 4:12] cautions, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” As Jesus said it, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” [Matthew 12:34]. By contrast: Philippians 4:8 lists those aspects of our thought life that honor God. (But this is another subject.)
There are studies of Scripture on sin that outline pride from boasting to a selfish display of violence, and we all know about lust—or so we think. These are listed in 1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” And because they outline Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, we tend to see them as a complete list of anything and all things we could call “sin.” But what about the tongue! And what about those persistent thoughts we shouldn’t be thinking that like a simmering pot has too long been on the fire of our interests that do not honor God? What about the meditations behind the words? Perhaps, if we are going to judge, best blame the heart and not just the tongue, which is only its accomplice in sin but not the “brains” behind it.
Is it a sin to tell a joke? What about gossip (The New Testament word is whispering, found only in Romans 1:29)? But I only told them to pray about the person—not tell anyone else! (A huh, got it!) Scholarship calls this secret informing, “All who hate me whisper about me,” David explained in Psalm 41:7. How about endless complaining? Is it sinful? The biblical word is “murmuring” as in John 7:12. Israel murmured incessantly while on their way to the promise land—which sounds a bit contradictory, like complaining about the blessing they were on their way to receive from God. We know how severe a damage bullying can cause, but is it recognized in Scripture. I think so. It is the word reviled. Let’s take a closer look.
My present inquiry began when reading the Pauline principle in 1 Corinthians 4:12, “Being reviled, we bless.” But I confess, “reviled” is not the word I would use to define the overwhelming grief and harm the tongue can cause. To be sure, I knew when I say something intended to hurt or bite, and I drive home my point angrily. That’s this word “revile” and reviling is never intended for dialogue—revilers have no ears anyway [We are not interested in listening to the people we are biting]. Our interest is not in understanding anything. Our words are directed at the person being reviled! There is no defense against reviling because revilers do not care to hear another explanation than the one that supports their bite. Perhaps, reviling should be another word for prosecution. That’s why Paul encouraged us to “bless” them in turn, instead.
Our words should be edifying [2 Corinthians 10:8] or are we just bringing up the past—as if we couldn’t forgive? Secondly, therefore, let the past lie; reconciliation and peace are future events we should be reaching for. Third, we must speak in Christian love [Ephesians 4:2] not in anger, and definitely not because it gives us a satisfaction getting it “off our chest.” We don’t need to be anyone’s disciplinarian [our young children the exception], as Paul said, “To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” [Romans 14:4]. It probably takes lifetimes to figure all this out perfectly, but it is meaningful, at least, to me when my repentance is met with love and forgiveness.
In the church of my youth we always ended Sunday Morning Service by quoting Psalm 19:14 (I don’t know why then but it speaks to me now!)
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”
Part 2 here.