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Words can build up or tear down; choose carefully

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Minister's Forum

We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Who is the knucklehead that came up with that saying?  The reality is, our world can be shaped by our words.
In fact, look at what the Bible says in Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue has the power of life and death…”
With this little mouth muscle, we have the power of life. We have the power to build people up. We have the power to encourage people. With this little muscle in our mouths, we can breath life and joy and energy into the lives of those around us.
But on the flip side, we also have the power of death. We have the power to destroy someone’s self-image, saying things like: “Fatso,” ”You stupid idiot” or ”You’ll never amount to anything.” We have the power to destroy reputations. We have the power to deflate, “You got a B+?  Why didn’t you get an A?”
Yes, our tongues have the power of life and death. And today, I want to look at one of the most destructive, “death-bringing” aspects of our words – the issue of gossip. Every single one of us has dealt with this painful, gut-wrenching aspect of life. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that all of us have been on both sides of this gossip issue. We’ve been hurt by gossip, and we’ve hurt other people with gossip.
So how do we stop the destruction of gossip? One of the first things we need to do is to distance ourselves from gossip. Proverbs 20:19 says: “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.”
This can be hard, can’t it? Our society is just infused with gossip, but we need to distance ourselves from it. Maybe that means setting up healthy boundaries in relationships that tend to always end up in gossip sessions. Maybe that means having one of those tough conversations and stopping gossip.
Proverbs is clear: A gossip betrays a confidence, so we need to distance ourselves and set up boundaries to avoid gossip. Because the thing is, if you’re hearing gossip from a gossip, how long will it be before your secrets are being shared by that same person?
But we also need to be gossip stoppers. Check out verses 5 and 6 in James 3: “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” James is talking about our tongue being on fire, and how the whole course of a person’s life can be set on fire by our tongues.  
Now let me ask you this: What three things are needed for a fire? The three things are oxygen, heat and fuel. Fire is a chemical reaction that takes place when there is adequate oxygen, heat and fuel. Any good firefighter knows that the way you put out a fire is to remove one of those three things. You take away the oxygen, you stop the fire. You take away the fuel, you stop the fire. You take away the heat, you stop the fire.
So how do we become gossip stoppers? We take away its spark. When you hear that juicy tidbit, stop it with you. When that person comes to you or in the course of a conversation you hear the words, “I don’t mean to gossip but…” or “Wait until you hear what so and so did.” Stop it with you. Make the choice to be a life-giver and not a life-taker by being part of gossip.
We need to be gossip stoppers, and there two questions to filter our words and the words of others through in order to stop the gossip with us.
These filters are found in Ephesians 4:29. “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.”
The first question or filter is, “Are my words building others up?” Before we speak or as we hear words, we need to use the filter: “Are these building up or tearing down?” Ephesians 4:29 said, “but only what is helpful for building others up…” Are these words of encouragement? Are these words loving? Are these words helpful or hurtful? Am I adding fuel or putting out the fire? Are my words life-giving? Or are my words death-bringing? You see, we do have a choice. And we need to tame our tongue, because the tongue has the power of life and death.
The second filter we need to use in order to be a gossip stopper is: “Are my words benefiting others?” Ephesians 4:29 said, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Are my words benefiting others? Are my words going to help this person grow and develop and experience the love of Christ? Or are my words going to discourage or belittle the person’s situation?
I’m not talking about lying to people or sugar-coating things.  But what I am talking about is speaking the truth in love. Maybe someone is going through a tough time in their life. Their marriage is struggling…they’re having a tough time with one of their kids. Do our words show love and encouragement to them? Do they meet them where they are? Or do we selfishly use our words to meet our own needs.
Look at what it says in James 1:19: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak….” In other words, so often, the best thing we can do is just zip it! We just need to keep our mouths shut.
What is it that you need to do today to stop the destruction of gossip? What is it you need to do to stop using words for death and destruction, and start using words to build up and breathe life into other people? What is it you need to do to be a gossip stopper?