Build Up Or Shut Up
“The tongue has the power of life and death. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (Prov 18:21 NIV, James 3:9-10 NIV)
What an incredible statement, that our tongues have the power of life and death.
What are we using our tongues for? Praising or cursing? What are we doing with this incredible privilege and responsibility? It is of extreme importance that we use our tongues rightly, that we take seriously the impact of our words.
The bible says that “reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov 12:18 NIV) and that “if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26 NIV) Paul said, “You must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is . . . a slanderer . . .with such a man do not even eat.” (1 Cor 5:11 NIV) Jesus said, “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:36 NIV)
So what is gossip? What is slander? What does the bible have to say?
The bible says that “a gossip betrays a confidence”- that a gossip can’t keep a secret (Prov 11:13 NIV). When someone confides exclusive information to us, and we share it with others, it’s gossip. It’s sin. The bible says it separates close friends (Prov 16:28 NIV) and that “the words of a gossip are like choice morsels” that “go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Prov 18:8 NIV)
How about slander? What is slander? The bible says that slander is speaking against a brother or sister (James 4:11 NIV). The bible speaks of slander as negative information that can be gathered and spread abroad (Ps 41:6 NIV). When we speak against a brother, when we share negative info about people with others, it’s slander. It’s sin.
Myths & Standard
But maybe you’ve heard this before; “I can share this with you, because I know your mature and you can handle it.” or “Well it’s true isn’t it? or “Everyone’s got a right to his or her opinion.” or “If this person was here I’d say it to their face.”
So what is God’s standard? What does He say? Ultimately our opinions about what we can and cannot say don’t matter.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29 NIV)
According to this verse it doesn’t matter if someone’s mature or if they “can handle it”. It doesn’t matter if it’s a true statement. It doesn’t matter if you’d say it to their face. Is it helpful for building this person up? Is it benefiting those who listen? According to this verse, the only opinion we have a right to, is one that is helpful for building someone up and that benefits those who listen. How many times do we think about whether something is building someone up before we say it? And what about the listeners? Is what we are saying benefiting those who listen? Is it making it hard for others to love people? Are we causing others to stumble?
If we’re not going to build people up then we better shut up.
The bible is pretty clear on what to do when a person sins against you. We must move from our selfish, careless, reckless words and unbiblical myths to biblical due process:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt 18:15-17 NIV)
“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim 5:19 NIV)
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11 NIV)
If someone has wronged us then we don’t go around telling everyone how they wronged us. We go to them. And if the person is not won over by confronting them, that doesn’t change the rules. We still don’t have the right to have conversations with others that are unloving or not building people up. If we need counsel about a situation, then whenever possible, we should do it without using names. If names are required or the person counseling knows who we are talking about, then we should be extremely careful how we talk about the other person. It’s very easy to justify sinful behavior when we’ve been wronged.
So how do we keep our tongues pure and our hearts clean? This isn’t a behavior issue. It’s a heart issue: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt 12:34 NIV)
No matter how hard we try to keep our tongues from speaking evil, if it’s in our hearts, it will eventually come out. We must repent. We must open to God’s healing in our hearts, and fill up with God’s love. May the overflow of our hearts be love.
“Love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1 NIV)
See also: Build Up Or Shut Up Audio
About Josh Christophersen
Josh is a software engineer, church planter, and blogger with a passion for helping people do their life well. He lives in KC with his wife and 7 kids.