Putrefied Talk

This tongue-taming is a hard thing.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:16 

I thought this verse kind of startling. Slander (Hebrew rakiyl) is being a scandal-monger, slanderer, tale bearer, informer, spreading gossip. We think of endangering the life of others as doing things like reckless driving or driving under the influence, but could gossip endanger the life of our neighbor? According to the Bible our words are powerful for giving life or for causing death. 

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21 

The Passion Translation says it this way: 

Your words are so powerful that they will kill or give life, and the talkative person will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:21 (TPT) 

Maybe this is why Jesus said that to call someone a name could land you in hell: 

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5:22 

The word translated “good-for-nothing” is raca. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance it means “O empty one, i.e. thou worthless (as a term of utter vilification).” It means empty-headed or senseless. We might say “idiot” today. The word translated “you fool” is the Greek word moros. It is where we get the English term “moron” from. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says this about these words: 

“The Aramaic term [raca] expresses disparagement accompanied by anger and contempt. Addressed to the foolish, thoughtless, or presumptuous person, it means ‘blockhead’ and is the most common term of abuse in Jesus’ day … Whoso is angry, says ‘blockhead [raca],’ or says ‘fool [moros],’ deserves to be punished with death, to be condemned to death, to suffer death in hell. This paradox whereby apparently harmless words are put on a par with murder shows how very serious sins of the tongue are in God’s eyes …”  

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18 

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness (crookedness, distortion, viciousness) in it breaks the spirit. Proverbs 15:4 (ESV) 

It seems like there has been a lot of this kind of thing going on the past few years. A lot of piercing of souls, a lot of breaking of spirits. Our words are supposed to be doing something else. Like the Word that is in us, they are to be life-giving, full of life, not dead and rotten and putrefied. They are to be healing, building up, not tearing down.  

Let no corrupting (rotten, putrefied, unfit for use, worthless) talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) 

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (inactive, unemployed, useless) word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV) 

I think the word “putrefied” captures how God feels about gossip and slander. He takes what comes out of our mouths very seriously. Yet, James says we cannot tame our tongues ourselves. I try and try, and read the Word and prepare my heart, but I still feel most of the time like Paul when he cried out, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” 

This tongue-taming is a hard thing. It is something, as with everything in our lives, for which we must throw ourselves on the mercy of our Lord, hide ourselves in him, clothe ourselves with Jesus, abide in the Vine, remaining in the Presence. 

But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8 (ESV) 

The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. Proverbs 16:1 (NKJV) 

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Psalm 141: 3 (ESV) 

Yes Lord, set a guard over my mouth. Let the answer of my tongue come from you, not out of my anger or self-defensiveness or judgement or condemnation. Let the words of my mouth bring grace and healing always. Let them build up and not tear down. Help Lord! Only You can do it! 

Psalm 15:1–3  

1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? 

Who may live on your holy mountain? 

2 The one whose walk is blameless, 

who does what is righteous,  

who speaks the truth from their heart;  

3 whose tongue utters no slander,  

who does no wrong to a neighbor,  

and casts no slur on others. 

Image in the Public Domain, The Gossip by William Penhallow Henderson, ca. 1922, Smithsonian American Art Museum https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/gossip-32644