Through my many years of preaching, I have often asked and answered this question: “What is life really all about?” The answer, of course, is relationships – not surprisingly the very focus of the Bible. God’s Word makes this focus clear as relationships in four key areas are addressed over and over and over: relationship with God, with our physical family, with our spiritual family and with those who need to become a part of our spiritual family. Relationship building and protecting is the essence of Christianity.
If that is the most important thing in all of life, you know that Satan is going to work hard to destroy relationships. That, in fact, is his number one focus in trying to deceive us into destroying relationships in each of these four key areas. This article will hopefully help us to better understand just how Satan goes about his work in trying to destroy human relationships in our physical families and especially in our spiritual family.
To begin with, God’s desire for us to have relationships in his kingdom that are far different from those in the world is spoken about all through the Bible. One of the passages that says it most strikingly is in John 17:20-23:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
If unity is what God loves, then that is what Satan hates and will do all that he can to work against. Further, since he is the Great Deceiver, he will try to do his work in ways that we don’t recognize, which is one reason why this article is simply entitled “Protecting Relationships.” Ephesians 4:22-32 is full of practical admonitions about our speech with each other, as God strives to protect us from Satan’s deception. Notice especially what Paul wrote in verses 29-30: “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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Thus, how we communicate to and about one another is the key to protecting relationships. If we could put these two verses into constant practice, life would be far richer and far less stressful (and far more righteous).
Humans Will Hurt One Another With Words
It is a sad but undeniable fact that we are going to hurt each other with our words, and it if often those we love most (or should love most!). Sometimes, we hurt one another in a completely unintentional way. No doubt that’s why James 3:2 says “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man.” But sometimes what we say is intentional, and we know that we are talking in ways that we wouldn’t want made public. This type of speech is called gossip and slander in the Bible. Here are a few key verses about this type of sinful speech:
Proverbs 18:8: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.
Proverbs 12:18-19: Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Proverbs 15:4: The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 26:22-25: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart. A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart.
Proverbs 26:28: A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
Psalm 55:21: “His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.”
1 Timothy 5:19: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.”
We Usually Are Not Unaware of Our Own Gossip and Slander
Although we often attempt to disguise our sins through rationalization, our awareness is fairly obvious by how we introduce such speech. Let me give you some examples.
“You know, I just have some things on my heart that I need to share with someone, and you are one of my best friends…”
“I need a safe place and a safe person to share some things with that are really troubling me – can you be that safe person and keep what I tell you confidential?”
“I don’t feel like I have anyone who really understands what I am feeling, and I’m so happy to have you as a confidential friend who can listen and keep a confidence.”
Hearing such introductions, we naturally feel concern and want to help, and we feel flattered that we are that chosen friend with whom another person can unburden their hearts. But the problem with what then takes place is that the talker is sinning and we as a listener are sinning! And we find ways to justify their sin and our own. “Well, he just got emotional and needed to work through it.” So, does being emotional make it not sinful?
Try this one on for size: “I just got emotional and shot that guy, but it was because I was emotional so it wasn’t wrong!” Another statement is actually fairly commonly heard: “I just said that terrible thing about him because I was angry!” Not so – you said that because it was in your heart, for in Luke 6:45, Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” We don’t say things just because we are emotional – we say them because they are in our hearts – and our emotions remove our inhibitions!
The most dangerous form of unhealthy talk of which I am aware is also understandably the most subtle – I call it objective negativity. I have a separate article under that title, and I strongly suggest that you read it after reading this one. It describes a form of communication that is not only highly subtle; it is also highly damaging and likely the most dangerous approach of all. Unfortunately, in my decades of working with churches and disciples, I have seen the damage done by it in an up-close and personal way far too often. Satan must be diabolically laughing when we fall prey to such sinful speech. I mentioned James 3:2 earlier, but look at it in its broader context:
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. 3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise 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. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
What Are God’s Solutions For the Sins of Unhealthy Talk?
First, avoid it yourself. Before sharing details about another person’s life in a potentially sensitive area without their knowledge, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why am I considering sharing these things?
- Will my sharing benefit the one I are sharing about?
- Will it benefit the one with whom you are sharing?
- Does the Golden Rule fit the situation?
Remember what Paul said 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.” Refuse to participate in the sinful speech of another, by being a willing listener. Here are some responses you can have that are righteous:
“Wait a minute – I am not comfortable with hearing negative talk about someone who is not here and able to give their side of the story.”
“You do remember what Proverbs 18:17says, right?” “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”
A good question to ask someone when they start down the path of talking negatively about another person is this one: “Have you shared this with the person themselves?” Using this line of inquiry, you have to be very thorough, for they may answer, “Yes I have told them this” when they really haven’t or perhaps that have hinted around at it but not really stated clearly the details that they are starting to tell you.
Then say, “Well, if you have told them this, I will want to talk with them about it later to make sure I hear their side of the story, based on Proverbs 18:17.” Truthfully, even if they have told the other person, why are they telling you? Saying, “Well, I’m not saying anything to you that I haven’t said to them” doesn’t make it right to repeat something negative to you. It is still a violation of the Golden Rule!
If they say, “No, I haven’t told them because they wouldn’t handle it well, so I need to share it with you as a confidential person to just unburden my heart,” then you have to intervene and stop the gossip. Say, “You do have to go and share this with the other person, based on the commands of Jesus. If you need me to go with you, I will go, but you have to do what Jesus says.” I then ask, “Will you go? Next, When will you go? And if they say they will go, I follow up with them later to make sure that they did.
If they say that they won’t go, I say, “If you haven’t obeyed Jesus and gone to them within a week, I am going to go and share with them what you have said, to make sure you two get together and work this out.” Now why would I do all that I just described? (Because that sounds drastic to some of you, and very different from the way you have often done it and seen it done – right?). Listen carefully to Jesus’ solution to all of our relationship problems:
Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
All of this may sound challenging to us, because we are by nature people pleasers and conflict avoiders, but it is the only option we have if we intend to be disciples of Jesus Christ. I have spent much time trying to help church leadership groups deal directly with “the elephant in the living room” (various sorts of relationship issues). I am intent on helping all disciples to do this with all of their brothers and sisters, whether in leadership roles or not, because we are the family of God. As God’s children, we have to strive for complete unity – a unity that can be destroyed by the wrong kind of speech, but built by the right kinds of speech and healed by the right kinds of resolution and reconciliation.
Therefore, watch both your speech and your listening, and don’t sin against others of God’s children. We must become good listeners and pick up on the speech of others when it begins to go in a sinful direction. Refuse to listen to it when it moves in that direction and love them enough to insist that they get resolved with those about whom they try to talk negatively. We have to protect our souls and the souls of others, and protecting relationships in the ways we have described is a major part of how we protect souls. Granted, it is not easy, but it is the way of God and we really have no options in the matter – we must obey him!