Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Romans 3:13-14NKJV
Today we continue our study of Question 144 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The duties required in the ninth commandment are… discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers.” Last time we considered our obligation to protect the names and reputations of our neighbors with our actions. Today we consider how we must do that in our conversations; both what we say and what we give our ears to.
We all sin with our words. The text quoted above is one of many such passages describing the great evil caused by the speech of man. This sad fact should not be, for God created man in His own image and likeness. Mankind is like God, and so it is his great duty and privilege to make sure he always acts like God. Therefore, most especially in the gift of speech, man should imitate his Creator: he should speak the way God speaks. Consider: God creates all things with His words and He saves all His elect through His words. God’s Word brings life in both creation and salvation. God speaks always and only what is good, what is right, and what is true. God’s Word embodies perfectly the character and nature of God. Thus, the Son of God is also said to be the Word of God and He comes to perfectly reveal to us who God is (John 1:18).
Unfortunately for us sinners, our words likewise reveal who we are. James says man’s “tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity…which no man can tame,” (Jas. 3:6, 8). We all sin with our lips. The godly know this, admit it, and mourn over it. Recall Isaiah, who was already a prophet when he had his vision of almighty God in the temple. Prophets were given the great privilege to speak the holy and pure words of God. There is a sense in which no one has better speech than a prophet. And yet when Isaiah saw the Lord, the first thing he was convicted of was his unclean lips. Surely the lips, tongue, and throat of a man bring about more evil in the world than anything else in all of God’s creation. However, for a man to be able to cause sin with his words he needs an audience. Here is where today’s instruction is so important to us. In order to oppose the evil of sinful words, we must not only watch our mouths, we must put a guard over our ears.
Even as our mouths like to speak evil, so our ears like to hear it. There is just something about seeing the shame or disgrace of another that appeals to our sinful hearts. The so called “gossip” magazines, television shows, and web sites comprise an industry that is worth many millions if not billions of dollars. Each one tries to outdo its rivals in claiming to have the absolute up-to-the-minute news, rumors, and reports. Moreover, not only do they not try to hide the wrongness of what they are doing, they proclaim and celebrate it. They boast of having the juiciest information, the most shocking quotes, the latest dirt. They love and seek to inflame scandals and controversies as they spin stories and fabricate headlines until there is very little truth left in them; and the more outrageous, the more shameful and offensive, the better. And let us not forget that they are only able to continue doing this because millions of Americans love it, spend money on it, and keep coming back for more. They peddle dirt because we purchase dirt. So much so that even serious news organizations, political campaigns, and religious media now compete in sensationalism.
Beloved it ought not to be so! May God grant that you and I would be diligent to do what we can to discourage tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers by first and foremost not listening to them! May God give us a holy conviction of the sinfulness of desiring to hear of evil befalling another person, and when we do hear of such things, may we feel bad and not good. May we be ashamed to discover the details of another’s disgrace and instead seek to cover their shame, like Japheth and Shem covered the shame of their father Noah. Let us pray for those who are caught up in scandalous evil, and may God grant our nation repentance from the great sin of gossip!