In the Apostle Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians we read about “busybodies,” those who like to carry stories. “We hear that there are some folks which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11).
James, the brother of our Lord, uses many illustrations relative to the tongue. Among these he employs the horse and its bridle, the ship and its helm, the fire and its fuel, the beast, the fountain, etc.
The important subject being discussed here is the dangerous use of the tongue. Of the horse we read, “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body” (Jas. 3:3). A man can hold in check a team of horses by a small bit and bridle, for each horse is under his control.
The tongue may be controlled by the Lord Jesus when the heart owns Him as Lord and Master. A tongue governed by Him can be a great blessing; but when uncontrolled, it may bring disaster. Many an unfortunate person needs a word of counsel, of cheer, and of comfort. Such words of advice and encouragement may be used by the Spirit of God to guide distressed souls out of evident difficulties into peace and joy. James does not make rash statements; his words carry with them the authority of experience. Let us, therefore, take heed to what he says. He calls the tongue “an unruly member,” and yet makes clear that it can be a source of much blessing.
Our blessed Lord Jesus asserts, “That which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth the man” (Matt. 15:18). Someone else has expressed it this way, “A deadly drug does not need to be taken in large doses, a drop or two will suffice.” Consequently, the tongue does not need to give forth long speeches, a word or two mischievously spoken can do the damage. Through ruthless speeches a former peace may be marred, a reputation ruined, and a friendship broken. A child’s rhyme provokes an attitude of caution:
“I lost a very little word, only the other day.
It was a very naughty word, I had meant not to say;
But, then, it was not really lost when from my lips it flew,
My little brother picked it up, and now he says it too.”
Let us notice three pictures painted by the Holy Spirit of God. The first is a scene with a shady background. Two men are whispering, “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Prov. 11:13). Under this picture can be written the word “Traitor.”
The word talebearer actually is whisperer; it is by whispering that a talebearer does his foul work (Prov. 16:28). Another quotation from the same Book of Proverbs states, “He that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov. 17:9). That is all that is needed, repeat a matter! Has there ever been a person who could repeat a matter exactly as he had heard it? All should covet the commendation made of a certain lady, “She never speaks ill of an absent friend.” The two statements, “Repeateth secrets” and “Revealeth secrets” are frequently mentioned in the Book of Proverbs (11:13; 20:19; 18:8) and attention should be given to them.
“The words of the whisperer are as dainty morsels, and go down into the innermost parts,” says the Revised Version. Regrettable though it is, not a few consider the betrayal of secrets palatable fare.
The second picture is very sad; two men, former friends, are parting. There is a strange light in the sky; the heavens seem to be glowing with indignation. These two, after a long and warm friendship are parting in anger. A talebearer has been at work. The only hope of restoring friendships thus broken is to get rid of the talebearer, and the only manner in which the talebearer can be cured is to close the ear to his defamatory conversation. “Take heed what ye hear” (Mark 4:24).
In our last picture there is a lonely figure, the biter at last has been bitten. ‘Wickedness boomerangs and falls back upon the evildoer. The Apostle Paul describes the gossip monger in concise and terse language, “Withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Tim. 5:13). He likewise insists upon punitive discipline, “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not” (Titus 1:10-11).
Well has the evil tongue been defined as the avenue for Satan’s inroads, the index of carnality, the poison that harms oneself and hurts one’s best friends. The Christian’s manner of speech should be an expression of his spirituality. Let us pay heed to the exhortation, “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” (Jas. 4:11).
“When Satan tempts you to speak ill
Of those reedeemed by Jesus’ blood.
Remember this, and love them still,
They’re dear to God.”