Read: Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 16:28; Proverbs 26:20; Proverbs 20:19; James 3:5-6
Let's play ‘what's the next line of the song’. If I say, ‘just a spoonful of sugar’, what words come next in your thinking?
1. Is all I need to sweeten my cereal.
2. Makes a mess on the floor.
3. Helps the medicine go down.
4. All of the above.
If you said “all of the above”, you are technically correct but you wouldn't win a prize on any TV game show. Of course, the winning response is NO. 3, and if you are like me, you will hear Julie Andrews' rendition of that song in your head all through the day. Why would I even ponder starting a devotion with such a strange question? No, I haven't watched any Julie Andrews movies, but I did have about a spoonful of sugar fall on to the floor. It is such a small amount. Who would think such an insignificant amount could end up making such a grainy mess on the floor? I quickly took off my shoes so I wouldn't track it everywhere. More about that later.
For now, let's look into the Bible to see what else, if we're not careful, "can make a mess on the floor." I'm talking about gossip and hurtful words. What a terrible mess this kind of words can make, Proverbs 12:18. Who can't recall a wounding word and how we felt when it was said to us?
Let's begin with Proverbs 16:28. What a warning this verse provides. This kind of speech can destroy one of God's beautiful gifts. Many years ago, two women I know experienced this proverb first hand. One of the ladies spoke words in confidence to a third person, and that third person repeated what was said. A sweet friendship was almost destroyed. Thankfully, God mended what had almost been broken beyond repair.
Next let's learn from Proverbs 26:20. What a picture we are given in this verse. We all know how dangerous a fire can be if it gets out of control. Gossip is the fuel that keeps the destruction coming. Starting a fire is bad, but adding wood to the glowing embers can do a great deal of damage. Words that should not be spoken fan the flames that the evil one would like to use to spread strife, James 3:5-6.
Proverbs 20:19 warns us that it is easy to fall into gossip if we talk too much, and Proverbs 17:27 strikes a similar tone by warning us that if we speak many words, it is easy to sin with our speech. It might be that we say just a little. Perhaps wanting to enter a conversation and not knowing what to say, we without malice, speak too quickly. Just a few words that seem as insignificant as that spoonful of sugar that fell on the floor, and like the words, that bit of sugar scattered far from where it fell.
Where do words of gossip go after they leave our mouths? Sadly, sometimes they reach destinations that we could never have imagined and cause pain that we never intended to inflict. Is there anything we can do if we have spoken words that hurt someone? Let's go back to the floor with the spoonful of sugar on it. When I realized I was walking in the mess, I took off my shoes so that the treads with their bits of embedded sugar wouldn't spread it everywhere I walked. I washed the shoes so that when I put them on again, they wouldn't spread sugar where I had just cleaned. Even though there was still work to do, I had done what I could to keep the mess from multiplying. Back to our words. Although we cannot put them back once we have spoken them, we can speak to those whom we have hurt. We can ask for forgiveness without making excuses as to why we said the things we said, and there are positive measures we can take to keep out of the gossip trap.
For one thing, we can pray that the Lord will place a guard over our lips, Psalm 141:3. The Holy Spirit Who lives in us will help us to know what we should say. He can also show us what to say that will stop gossip in its tracks by helping us speak something true and praiseworthy about one who is about to be maligned. Usually, uplifting words stop the unkind ones from continuing. There are also those times when we don't know what we ought to say. Perhaps in those circumstances, the Holy Spirit will direct us to be silent so we can pray. I don't think I have ever been sorry that I kept quiet when I didn't have anything to add to a conversation.
There is at least one more practice that can protect us from speaking the hurtful kind of words. Speaking helpful ones instead. Looking for something that is both truthful and kind to say about others. That's like keeping the sugar far from the edge of the counter so it won't make an unnecessary mess that I have to clean up later. Someone might say that there is a person that he knows who isn't praiseworthy in any area. What then? Perhaps it is helpful at times like that to remember that each person has been created in the image of God, Genesis 1:27. Each one either belongs to Him or might someday be in His family. Each one is precious to the Savior and is one for whom Jesus died. Knowing that the one who is disdained by others is loved by the One Who knows him best can stop us from uttering rash words.
How thankful I am that You, Lord, don't speak against me; instead, You intercede on my behalf, Romans 8:33-34.