Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. (Psalm 34:13)
There is a term used by Jewish rabbinic tradition called lashon hara. I submit most have not heard of this term in the Hebrew parlance; however, it is a concept firmly rooted in Scripture. Lashon hara means “evil tongue” and is derived from passages such as Leviticus 19:16 and Proverbs 10:18. With that said, perhaps the most notable verse that speaks to the issue of lashon hara is Psalm 34:13.
What exactly then is meant by “evil tongue?” There is no shortage in Scripture of passages that speak of the tongue or how to define godly and ungodly verbal interaction with not just our fellow man, but also regarding how we speak of God. Notably as it relates to the tongue and God, we can point to Exodus 20:7 which declares, “You shall not take the name of the God in vain.” In other words, evil tongue as it relates to God involves but is not limited to trying to make the name above all names common. For more insight into what it means to take the name of God in vain, check out my post on this subject.
As lashon hara relates to our fellow man, there are all types of examples. Evil tongue involves things such as gossip, lying, bearing false witness, slander, malice, anger, bitterness, perversion, and honestly the list can go on and on.
It is no wonder the Apostle James saliently noted,
“Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 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. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:4-12)
I humbly admit that lashon hara is something for which I continually struggle. It is far too easy to gossip, lie, and slander another person. At the moment in which lashon hara occurs, there is a certain sense of evil satisfaction, a belief that somehow you have stuck it to another person. They deserved it after all right? After all, nothing wrong with a little water cooler gossip about that co-worker and nothing wrong with setting someone straight on social media to include a few choice words to boot, right?
The answer to those questions is a resounding no. Lashon hara (evil tongue) should never be part of the daily walk of a child of God. For starters, He commands us to never treat Him that way and furthermore, we are to love God and love others. Love can be stern and corrective; however, love never involves lashon hara. Evil tongue is a hallmark of the wicked. Tearing down and destroying one another with our tongue is the complete opposite of how the body of Messiah is to operate.
Why then do we fall prey so often to lashon hara? I firmly believe it is like a gateway drug if you will. It seems alluring at the time and we make believe words do not matter when in reality they do. If what we say to one another did not matter, God would not repeatedly outline what godly speech looks like. Since He does all throughout Scripture, what we say and how we say it is of the utmost importance.
If you struggle with evil tongue, I encourage you to pray to God for forgiveness and to seek forgiveness from those you may have hurt by engaging in lashon hara. This will likely take a great deal of humility, but it is a necessary first step in resisting and purging yourself of this pernicious behavior.
I also encourage you to do a biblical study on the tongue. Note how Scripture outlines the manner in which we should treat one another with our speech. This will involve noting both good examples of proper speech as well as bad examples given in Scripture of speech. The good, the bad, and the ugly are provided in Scripture for a reason.
Finally, realize that more often than not, silence is golden. Lashon hara often stems from immaturity in this area of our life, a desire to fly off the handle to satisfy self. As the old saying goes, “If you do not having anything nice to say, do not say anything at all.” Or as my mother used to remind me, “Zip your lip.”
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