Avoid Falling Into Sin When Someone Begins to Speak Negatively About Another Person
If you have been following Pilgrim’s Light lately then you may have noticed a theme. I have been very disappointed in the effectiveness of the teaching that has been attributed to the Bible lately. It seems that the Bible believing world has missed some very important lessons that the Bible is addressing. Maybe some of it is that we have become a very self-serving people. Maybe we address the Bible in how it can benefit us without understand how to achieve the goal to which the Bible is directing us.
Galatians 5:14 and James 3:2 are passages that demand further inspection:
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -Galatians 5:14 ESV
Master one thing and you have fulfilled all of God’s instructions. What does this entail? Can we just give it a cursory glance and be done with it? Or does it demand much deeper study and application? As we discussed in the article Do We Practice What the Bible Teaches? and the teaching on How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, we saw that “loving your neighbor as yourself” includes how we speak about and to each other.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. -James 3:2
James the Just (a.k.a. Yaakov HaTzaddik) is giving us the key to live a perfect life. The key is to only engage in honorable speech! What is honorable speech? Honorable speech is saying the perfect thing at the right time. I think we have lost the ability to speak honorably to each other as Believers, at least for the most part. So who is teaching how to engage in honorable speech? What are the fine points of speaking the way God would have us speak to each other?
I don’t really have the answers to these questions and that is why I am studying this subject for myself. These articles are my way of working these concepts through. Hopefully, this exercise can benefit more people than just myself.
So without further ado, let us dig into the subject at hand. What should we do if someone begins to speak negatively about another person in our presence?
From my own experience I have been both the giver and receiver of this offense. I have been the one speaking negatively about another person, and I have been the person listening to negative comments about other people. I freely admit this because I think many of us have been guilty of the same offenses. In this article I would like to speak to the issue of what to do when we are receiving the negative information. What is our responsibility to the person who is speaking negatively and to the person they are speaking about?
The key verse for this is one that you may not suspect:
You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. -Numbers 35:33
The modern Hebrew word for pollute here is to flatter. That does not make much sense in English “You shall not flatter the land in which you live, for blood flatters the land…” So I had to do a little digging to understand the concept of the word. You may think this is solely speaking about murder, but as we have seen murder and evil speech are the same category of sin according to Jesus (Yeshua) and the rest of Scripture. So what is the concept here?
The Hebrew word is cha-NEIF (חָנֵף). Flattery is probably not the best word for this concept. The concept is that of accepting what is evil as something that is good, it is a type of deception in that it corrupts, defiles, or pollutes the truth. So how does that concept come through in this verse?
When blood is shed in the land there are no immediate repercussions. The land stills supports its inhabitants things go on as normal for a time. However, the blood-guilt remains on the land. Just as God told Cain that the blood of Able was “crying out” to Him. The blood on the land cries out to God. God hears it, and remembers it but the ones who defiled the land continue to live in it. The ones who will be responsible for the blood will have to atone for it at some point since the land does not provide an atonement for the blood shed in it. To the one who sheds blood it is like he or she is getting away with something that they are not. It is deceptive that the land looks good when in fact it is defiled.
This concept applies to those who stand by while sins are committed and say or do nothing or even worse condone or even promote wrongdoing. The offender does not see that they have defiled the land so to speak. They have spilled the blood of their neighbor through gossip, but everything still looks good to them. To stand by and allow this situation to continue is the sinful act. This can happen with any category of sin, but for the purpose of this article I will be exploring how this applies to the one who listens to gossip.
We can see this concept in the following passage as well:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness… murder… They are gossips, slanderers… Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. -Romans 1:29-32* ESV
* I removed some of the sins in the list to make a point, murdering, gossiping, and slandering is what evil unrighteous people do. We absolutely should not engage in this behavior nor should we show approval in any way.
I share the following to admonish and build the body of our Messiah so that we can be the holy and righteous people He is calling us to be. We do not want to participate in gossip and slander, and we do not want to give approval to those who do. May the LORD guide us into all truth with this issue. Please take into consideration the following:
The one who listens to negative speech about another person (gossip), by inaction, is doing a number of things:
- They are giving approval to doing what is evil by their inaction. I used to believe, and many people still believe, that it is acceptable to listen to gossip as long as you do not add to it. I have found that this is wrong because my inaction is seen by the offender as approval of the gossip.
- They are allowing the offender to think that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. This blinds the offender to the evil being committed by the gossip. The offender will continue to do the same thing over and over again. The offender will think it is acceptable to gossip when in reality it is destroying both the offender, and the other person.
- They are failing to be a godly example to others. If anyone else is present while the offender is gossiping the bystanders could think that this type of speech is acceptable and emulate it with others.
- They are neglecting their duty to the offender. Since the offender is not admonished the offender is less likely to ask God for forgiveness and the sin remains unaddressed which can lead to negative ramifications for the offender, both with his neighbor and with heaven itself.
- They show by their actions that they are trying to please men rather than God. Instead of upholding God’s ideal of honorable speech the listener instead elects to save the feelings of the offender thereby putting a person’s opinion before God.
Of course there is no reason to be rude or offensive to the offender to get the point across and in some instances it is advisable to remove oneself from the situation and show one’s protest by one’s absence. It would be advisable to excuse yourself and remain quiet when you know the offender will not head your warning. The Bible mentions this situation here:
“Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” -Proverbs 9:8 HCSB
The point is to not just let the situation continue and give the impression that the gossip is acceptable.
In order to mitigate this circumstance say positive things about the person being gossiped about. This will let the offender know that you do not share their view of the person in question and it may stop the attack. If after saying positive things it does not stop the gossip then an attempt should be made to change the topic, and failing that, end the conversation. One should refrain from nodding or using any other form of non verbal agreement with the offender.
The goal in all of this is not to put down the offender or try to exert control in the situation. Biblical admonishment is the skill of correcting a fellow believer with the truth in love. The goal is to save all parties involved, including yourself, from sin and dishonor.
To love your neighbor as yourself takes practice. If we begin to take these issues seriously maybe we can truly know what it means to live in peace with God and with others. I am excited to be learning this, it feels like unlocking the keys to the Universe. I pray that you will benefit from this as well. All the best as you work to apply biblical truth in your own walk.