Posted in gentle speech, lying, slander

Alistair Begg on "The Use and Abuse of Words" Right speech in a wrong world

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And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:6)

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3)

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:10)

This morning I listened to Alistair Begg’s sermon about words and their abuse. I have been thinking about words for a long time. You might be familiar with this adage:

“Before you speak, ask yourself: “Is It True? Is It Necessary? Is It Kind?”

The quote is often attributed to Buddha, or Guru Sai Baba, or the 1920 Quaker book The Children’s Story Garden or the 1835 poem “The Three Gates of Gold” by Beth Day”, or…

You get the idea. It’s a cultural parable. More to the point, the bible has much to say about tongue, lips, speech, lying, and truth.

My goal with this blog is three-fold, as stated in the menu on the right: encouragement, discernment,

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and prophecy. The work of discernment often means I expose a false teacher by name, or report on a false teaching. I report on negative trends in Christianity or church life. The flood of falsity is never ending and of one lets it, can taint one’s attitude into one that is overwhemlingly negative.

Satan’s flood of falsity began in the garden of Eden (actually it began in heaven when Lucifer declared himself above God and pride was found in his heart). It reentelssly continued int he Old testament. In the NT after Jesus ascended, satan immediately flooded into the church with all kinds of false teachers bringing false doctrines.

Paul was especially grieved by these men. he called out Alexander, Hymenaeus, Philetus, Jannes and Jambres, Phygelus and Hermogenes who deserted. Diotrephes plagued John…all these men brought with them false teachings to the first century churches, immediately. It’s never stopped.

Satan has never let up. We still fight the battle of truth against evil today. One thing we are called to do is:

“Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Romans 16:17

The way we mark them is what is at issue here. And I’m not just talking about right speech solely in discernment issues but a Christian’s talk in general. It is very easy to get unnecessarily critical and to stay critical. After that comes sarcasm, mocking and then anger.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)

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When speaking of brethren or speaking of the lost, our speech is supposed to be gentle and kind. (1 Peter 2:1, Colossians 4:6). We are supposed to respect our leaders and give them double honor. On the other hand, Paul called false teachers’ talk “gangrene”, (2 Timothy 2:17) the teachers themselves “men of depraved mind” and “fools.” (2 Tim 3:8-9). He said “Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Corinthians 11:15).

I said it a few days ago and I’ll say it again. It is a delicate balancing act, to properly discern, to speak rightly in all the different situations, and to remain holy in life and speech. When does one speak with righteous anger? When can one use biblical sarcasm? When should we be gentle? No one is perfect, but we can strive toward the persistent tendency to do right, and that includes our speech.

I’ve noticed that courteous speech on Facebook declines immediately when doctrine is brought up and opinions on it vary. Disagreements among Christians on Twitter turn nasty in a heartbeat. Personal attacks, sarcasm, mocking, and anger are the go-to replies of the day. Slander abounds! I don’t like that. I try hard to reign in my own sarcasm, though there is a biblical place for it. I’m not wise enough always to know when I’m correctly walking the line of loving, sarcastic admonishment, and sarcasm that intentionally (or unintentionally) hurts, so I try not to be sarcastic at all.

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Foolish talk is strongly discouraged in the bible. We will be called to account for every careless word we speak. (Matthew 12:36). The bible is clear about what the LORD hates. HATES. There are seven things in particular that He hates, and two, maybe three, involve the tongue!!

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
(Proverbs 6:16-19).

A lying tongue and false witness are two kinds of speech the LORD hates. A person sowing discord could also be related back to the former two because lying and slander bring discord. This is serious. When the God of the Universe, Ancient of Days, Holy Judge of all Mankind, tells us He hates lying, slander, and careless words, we must pay attention.

When I was in journalism we were told that the public will always fill in a gap with a negative. If we weave a story loosely, the public’s mind will fill in the holes with scurrilous thoughts. Therefore we needed to be as tight as possible. Even hinting at something is just about the same as libel, because of the implications one can make by using our words as a springboard.

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:25)

Another kind of loose, damaging speech is whisper campaigns. Whisper slander campaigns are the most successful kind of negative campaigns, because they ruin reputations and darken the mind against the person slandered. Satan was successful in his whisper campaign against God in heaven and turned a third of the angels against Him!

Here is a famous and well-used parable to illustrate the damage of words, and how fast they travel. If you listen to Pastor Begg’s sermon on the Abuse of Words, you will hear this at the end.

Let’s mind our speech, and say edifying and kind things. If we have to make a person as a false teacher or a threat to the brethren, let’s speak the truth in love.

Alistair Begg: The Use and Abuse of Words


Parable of the Feathers

Once upon a time a certain man went to the town pastor.

“Pastor, he confessed, “I’ve been slandering my neighbors. I am truly sorry for what I’ve said and how I’ve treated them. I want to take back all the bad words I’ve said and then be done with it. How can I do this?”

The pastor said: “Go pluck 3 chickens. Stuff a bag with the feathers, then go put one feather on every doorstep in town. Return to me when you have finished.”

“Pastor, I have obeyed your instruction. What should I do now?”

“Now,” said the pastor, “go pick up every feather.”

“But, but,” spluttered the villager, “they’ve been there all night! The wind has already blown them all around!”

The pastor nods in agreement. He said, “You may turn from your sin and be forgiven, but the wind has blown your words everywhere, and the spent word, like the fired arrow, isn’t coming back.”

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Further Reading:

Gary Alan Fine has done extensive work on the social impact of rumors and legends. In his interesting book Rumor Mills, he wrote,

“Telling stories enables one to slip into the role of a transmitter who can refer to his or her sources for testimony and claim to transmit facts without being criticized.”

He also wrote, Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial
which examines the lasting effect of rumors upon a reputation.

Todd Pruitt at Reformation21 advises pastors to do their part in ceasing to perpetuate rumors and hoaxes by consulting Snopes once in a while before including that cute story into their sermons. Snopes is a website that de-bunks rumors that have quickly taken on a life of their own in email or social media. Facebook’s Hoax Slayer also does a good job.

Preachers – Spend some time with St. Snopes this week


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.