On a Podcast I listened to recently one of the speakers talked about barnacles. Did you know that the U.S. Navy reports Barnacles can slow down nuclear–powered ships by as much as 40%? Barnacles diminish the arrow–dynamics of boats, get inside engines, add weight on the hull, and can even crack the hull with smaller vessels. Barnacles expand and breed constantly and the navy spends $500 million a year to scrape barnacles off ships. Are your words the nuclear energy that gives your family, friends, workplace, and church power? Or are they barnacles? Words can give us life or slow us down.
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV)
Your tongue can help grow healthy life-giving fruit, or it can burn down the forest (James 3:5-6). In our series on Proverbs we’ve encountered lady wisdom who speaks what is good and true. Hear what she says.
6 Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
7 My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
8 All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse. (NIV)
Lady wisdom is a metaphor for God himself one day fulfilled in Jesus (Matt 11:19). The words she speaks are the words God speaks, inviting us to speak words that mirror Christ’s goodness and character. This stands in stark contrast to lady folly.
Folly is an unruly woman;
she is simple and knows nothing. (NIV)
Lady folly represents Satan, sin, and his powers, which are completely different than God’s goodness. When we speak Godly words we pump Godly power and goodness into those around us. But when we use the words of his enemy, we become like barnacles, multiplying and spreading and causing destruction. So how can you know if your words are of God or in opposition to him? How can you know if your words are nuclear power or a barnacle slowing down the ship?
Foolish words cause harm.
When we say the wrong things it can destroy a relationship.
Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain
is a sly tongue—which provokes a horrified look. (NIV)
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always crush my spirit.” Words can destroy relationships, but also institutions, like a business, government, or church.
Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. (NIV)
When Director J.J. Abrams was filming Star Wars Episode VII he put up a poster at Pinewood Studios that said “Loose lips bring down starships” referencing posters from WWII. Darth Vader’s hand is muffling the mouth of the officer who shared the plans to the Death Star. Abrams had a lot of visitors while filming the first movie and he made them all sign non–disclosure agreements (NDAs). If they told people what they saw, it could spoil everything. What we do with our words can bring our starship down too.
So what type of words am I talking about? What are foolish words?
A lie is anytime we intentionally say something that isn’t true. I don’t feel comfortable calling something a lie if it was completely unintentional. I think a better word for that is “misspoken.” Even worse than a lie is deceit. Deceit is when we intentionally mislead someone, with or without a lie. But where do lies and deceit come from? Proverbs tell us they are symptoms of a sick heart.
24 Enemies disguise themselves with their lips,
but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them,
for seven abominations fill their hearts.
26 Their malice may be concealed by deception,
but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. (NIV)
If you’re someone who lies or distorts the truth, it’s time to get your heart checked. I was reading Tremper Longman III’s commentary on Proverbs as I prepared again this week and he said that Proverbs warns us not only to not lie but also to not be too quick to believe what others say, to use discernment (Proverbs p. 562). Lying leads to consequences.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and whoever pours out lies will not go free. (NIV)
Not only might you end up guilty in a court-of-law but before God himself. Lying doesn’t reflect the heart of God. It reflects the heart of Satan. Jesus said this about the devil.
John 8:44b He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (NIV)
Lies and deception are foolish words. Foolish words cause harm. Trust is the foundation of relationship and when you don’t have trust relationship breaks down. What other foolish words are there?
Gossip is what other people do… and let me tell you about it. There’s something about gossip that makes it easier to identify when others are doing it, but incredibly difficult to admit when I’m doing it. Maybe even when you saw the words “gossip” on the screen a face popped into your mind, someone you think is a gossip. Well I want to take that face and replace it with your own and ask yourself, “Do I gossip?” and “How do I gossip?” It helps to define gossip.
Gossip: saying something negative about anyone or anything to someone who can’t do anything about it. (Stephen Mansfield – The EntreLeadership Podcast #303)
Inevitably you’re going to have a conversation sometime soon that you will think might be gossip. When that happens here’s what you should do. Say, “Can we pause this conversation? I recently heard a sermon about gossip and I’ve felt convicted to try not to do it anymore. Before we talk further can we run what we’re about to talk about through my definition of gossip?” I doubt they’ll say “no.” Then you say, “My definition of gossip is saying something negative about anyone or anything to someone who can’t do anything about it. What do you think?” Hopefully this will spark a conversation without accusing anyone.
This isn’t the perfect definition, but Proverbs helps us think it out one step further. I’ve taken what I’ve learned from Proverbs about gossip and summarized it with Four Questions to Identify Gossip:
1. Is it juicy?
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to the inmost parts. (NIV)
Gossip can be a lie, a made-up or twisted story, it can also be true, but it’s always something “juicy.” It’s sweet. It’s interesting. Your ears perk up. Oh, I can’t believe that happened! Tell me more. It’s almost always something negative (and I’d add personal). We don’t tend to gossip about positive things.
2. Is it secretive?
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid anyone who talks too much. (NIV)
Gossip is when we tell information to people who can’t do anything about it (or shouldn’t do anything about it). It’s secretive in nature. The information is secretive and the act of telling is private. It’s said behind closed doors or in hushed voices. Apparently “spilling tea” is slang for gossip these days. That’s what gossip is, a spilling of secrets (Prov 11:13). Proverbs warns us to avoid those who spill tea.
3. Does it stir up trouble?
A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends. (NIV)
At first it might seem like gossip doesn’t hurt anyone but it sows seeds of resentment. So if it is juicy, secretive, or stirs up trouble, it’s probably gossip. But the best way to tell if something is gossip is to examine the heart.
4. Where’s your heart?
Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware
are fervent lips with an evil heart. (NIV)
We gossip to put others down and make ourselves feel big. Gossip reflects a heart-attitude of restlessness and dissatisfaction with what God has given us. Although it’s not good it makes sense that the world loves gossip. They don’t know God. But we do. So if you’re prone to gossip, the cure is loving God and finding your satisfaction in him. Gossip is found in the heart and poisons the heart. Don’t play with poison.
Without wood a fire goes out;
without a gossip a quarrel dies down. (NIV)
Norman Rockwell was probably the most famous American illustrator who created covers for the Saturday Evening Post. He depicted normal scenes in everyday life. One of his most famous paintings is “The Gossips.” The painting starts at the top left with the gossip who shares her juicy tidbit, and you can watch as the news passes from one person to the next through a game of “telephone.” See how it takes two to gossip. These are paintings of actual people who lived in Stockton Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell’s friends and neighbors. He painted his wife in the third row in the second and third columns. She’s the woman with brown hair and a telephone. He painted himself too. He’s the brunt of the gossip in the bottom right hand corner. You can see him getting upset at the woman who started it all. That woman was actually hurt by being painted this way. See! Even a painting of gossip can hurt a real relationship! When this picture was originally published thousands of people wrote letters asking what the gossip was. Foolish words cause harm. This painting recently sold for $8.5 million. Gossip is juicy.
Slander is when we intentionally say things to not just deceive but to actually harm others.
Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips
and spreads slander is a fool. (NIV)
Today you can get sued for defamation, for hurting a reputation. Slander is like gossip on steroids. But maybe you don’t lie or gossip or slander, but you do talk too much and you’re not a good listener.
Speaking Hastily / Not Listening
Talking too much and never stopping to listen is also foolishness.
Do you see someone who speaks in haste?
There is more hope for a fool than for them. (NIV)
You’re more likely to lie or misspeak or gossip if you’re not listening and talking too much. So what can we do? Talk less. Listen more. Speak words of life! Foolish words cause harm but…
Wise words give life.
Wise words also spring forth from the heart (Prov 16:23).
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (NIV)
What’s on the inside will come out and hopefully it’s good. When our hearts are in the right place we’re going to talk differently. Our words are going to give life. So what type of words will we say?
Truthful words are words that accurately reflect reality—no distortion, no lies, no misrepresentation, no making yourself look better than you actually are, just a real picture of what’s really going on (Prov 14:25).
Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. (NIV)
As one poster said, “Speak with integrity” and “Say only what you mean.” If Satan is the father of lies who is the truth? Jesus!
John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (NIV)
With Jesus there’s no shadow, no deceit, no gossip, just truth (James 1:17). It’s through Jesus that we can know ultimate truth, ultimate reality. It’s through him that we can have a true relationship with God. It’s through him that we can change from gossips and liars to people that speak truth.
Wise words are not just about being truthful. We also need to speak truth when others can hear it.
Tremper writes, “A wise word is one that is spoken at the right time. Good words are not inherently good; they must be spoken at the appropriate time.” (Proverbs p. 571)
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word! (NIV)
If you yell “I love you!” at your spouse at 5am it might be true but it’s not going to go over well (Prov 27:14). Sometimes we need to speak truth to someone but can’t do so right away. This might be the most tempting time to gossip. It takes wisdom to know when to speak and to know when to be quiet and listen (Prov 19:20; 26:9). Listening can earn the opportunity to be heard. Wise words are timely and…
It’s about character. Wise people speak words that are true and are themselves trustworthy people.
A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. (NIV)
When you need private advice who do you go to that you know will keep your confidence? Be that person. Wise words are truthful, timely, trustworthy, and…
We have so many ways we can speak life into each other’s lives.
Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up. (NIV)
As a new church we have the opportunity to create a new culture, a new DNA. Let’s create a culture of encouragement. Let’s make visitors sense our love and support for each other (Eph 4:29; Titus 3:2). One of the ways we can encourage each other is by sharing good news.
Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart,
and good news gives health to the bones. (NIV)
As Christians we have the opportunity to be the most encouraging people on planet earth because we have the best news of all, the news about Jesus, the gospel. We have the good news that Jesus died and rose again and whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Jesus is God’s Word given for us.
If it’s the heart that produces foolish words or the heart that produces wise words how can we change our hearts so we speak wise words? Well… we can’t. But Jesus can! Jesus is God’s word come to rescue us.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
This means the things Jesus spoke are the things God spoke. This is so because Jesus is the revelation (or word) of God. It’s through Jesus that we can know and talk to God. It’s through Jesus that we can hear God. Even though Jesus is the word of God, and had every right to speak and shout God’s truth, what did he do for us? Jesus, the Word of God, became silent.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (NIV)
Jesus, the Son of God, the only one who has the right to speak, didn’t protest as he was lead to the cross, crucified, and died. He died quietly to forgive us for all our noise. If you say a prayer, you don’t even have to say it out-loud, of repentance and faith in him, if you tell him you believe him and everything written about him, he will come and rescue you, give you eternal life, and begin to change you from the inside out. Christ came to save the liars and gossips and slanderers and those who speak too much and have trouble listening. But he won’t leave us that way. He came to change us. If you need changing, let’s take a moment to silently pray to receive Christ’s forgiveness… amen.
Pastor Jonathan Romig preached this message at Cornerstone Congregational Church. You can download a PDF copy of this sermon above, which includes endnotes and references, or share it through Apple podcasts or Google Play Music. Read the story of our church here.