For encouragers, the habit of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” is crucial. By this time in the effort to develop this ministry, you may be finding that one of the hardest parts of being an encourager is learning to control what you say. Hopefully, at this point in the journey (we’ve been working on it eight months now), doing things to help others and build them up has become second nature to you. And you may have found it somewhat easy to develop the habit of saying encouraging words more often. Unfortunately, though, the same mouth that blesses, all too often, is still quick to speak the negative – that we can do without even thinking!
“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” ~ James 3:8-10, NIV (emphasis mine)
Scripture tells us that the mouth speaks “out of the overflow of the heart” (Mt 12:34). We Christians tend to minimize our speech sins. (Except for cursing. We all know cursing is just awful. No good Christian would ever use a cuss word.) We seem to ignore the fact that speech sins like gossip and slander are listed right alongside the “big sins” of murder and sexual immorality in Scripture. They are even put in the same category as God-haters (Rom 1:28-31; 2 Cor 12:20). Grumblers are said to deserve the same fate as idolaters (1 Cor 10:10).
“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person …” Matthew 15:18-20
Since our speech sins are the result of our heart condition, any effor to control our mouths must begin there. Learning to cover our ears and eyes when necessary will help our hearts to be more pure, and that should help us with our tongues.
HEAR NO EVIL – One thing we can do to become more loving, more positive, and thus, more encouraging is to lessen the effects that negative people have on us. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 both say the words of a gossip go deep into our inner parts. We are warned not to lightly receive accusations against others (1 Tim 5:19) and to flee from people who promote strife (1 Tim 6:3-5,11,20). Matthew 15:14 warns us not to follow such people because it’s like the blind leading the blind, and causes both parties to fall into a pit.
In his book Sticks and Stones: The Discipleship of Our Speech (p. 83), Dr. William Baker says, “Our speech can be infected by our association with people who do not control their speech. Their bad speech habits will rub off on us. If we spend time with people who gossip, we will gossip also. If we pal around with people who get kicks out of making fun of others, we will find ourselves enjoying this kind of sinful speech, too.” We apply this when it comes to choosing our children’s friends and “… it makes sense to apply this principle to ourselves as well as we begin to work on our speech ethics.”
If we truly love each other, gossip and other forms of destructive speech should grieve our hearts because we would be thinking about the person on the receiving end. We should feel pain when others are hurt (1 Cor 12:26). 1 Corinthians 13 says love is kind – hurtful speech is unkind. It says that love always protects – we should protect even the reputations of others. It also says love does not delight in evil – true love doesn’t enjoy gossip!
SEE NO EVIL – One reason it is easy to listen to and participate in gossip and other grumblings is because we often agree, at least in part, with what’s being said. We are not blind. We see the faults in others. We see the parts of their ideas which may need to be revised or might not work. We see the wrong they do. It’s easy to see the negative.
Scripture never tells us not to recognize sin or evil. In fact, we are even told at times to expose it (Eph 4:15;5:11 – Note this is to be done in love, with the goal of building up, not tearing down, 4:29-32). But more often, we are told to lovingly “cover” one another’s faults (Prov 10:12,17:9).
This reminds me of what God does regarding our faults. He is not blind to our sins, but He chooses to cover them in Christ. So, when He looks at us, He looks beyond our flaws and sees Christ in us. Loving like God means we keep no record of the wrongs people commit (1 Cor 13:5).
1 Corinthians 12:22-26 says when we see unattractive, unpresentable members in the body of Christ we should treat them with “special modesty.” In other words, cover their faults; don’t expose or point out every defect. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8).
Besides knowing what not to focus on when we look at one another, the eyes must also be trained to see the good in people. In Philippians 4, Paul addresses the need for two quarreling Christians to stop fighting. It is there he tells us to think on anything we can that is positive about the other person instead of dwelling on our differences and the negatives.
SPEAK NO EVIL – The Bible sets very high standards for our speech. It says our mouths should be so controlled that we bless those who curse us, not repaying that kind of evil when in kind (Rom 12:14,17).
The book of James “… elaborates on the problem of the tongue. It is the most extensive treatment in the New Testament, and it does not draw a very pretty picture. In fact, this passage [3:1-13] is more negative than anything else written in the Bible” (Baker, 84). But, thankfully, James does point us to things that can help us: planting the Word in our hearts, praying for wisdom, drawing near to God, being humble, and remembering to apply the same standard we want God to judge us by to others (i.e., be merciful).
So, while the battle with the tongue is daunting, “We can decrease its range … We can hold it down. If we desire to grow in our Christian lives, this is the place to begin real change. We will not gain much control over this powerful force in our lives without access to a mightier power” (Baker, 87). And Psalm 141:3 tells us where to turn:
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”