Words That Hurt
We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.” Mark 14:58NKJV
We continue our study of Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The sixth part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are… speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions.” Last time we looked at the evil of using the truth in order to deceive, this morning we consider some of the many ways we can speak words to hurt others.
To tell a lie means to deliberately say something that we know is not true with the intention of having it be believed as true. Lying does not mean making a mistake, being wrong, or making an error. The weatherman is not lying when he says it’s going to rain tomorrow and it does not. He may be guilty of negligence. He may have been lazy and not checked all of his instruments as carefully or as often as he should have. But if he believes it will rain tomorrow and it does not, he is not a liar. He is not guilty of trying to pass off what he knew to be false as true. He said what he thought was true, he was simply wrong in his belief.
But when we lie, we know what we are doing. When I tell a lie I am conscious of the fact that what I am saying is, as far as I know, not true. To speak a lie is to speak what I believe to be false. Here, ironically, I could be mistaken in my attempt to speak falsehood. I could lie to someone and say, “It’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” when I know the forecast is for sunny skies and no rain. Yet if, against what I knew and thought it does in fact rain, I’m still guilty of having told a lie because of what I knew and believed when I spoke. I believed it would not rain and yet I falsely said it would. Whether it rains or not is beside the point. I tried to pass off what I believed to be false as true. I told a lie.
Slandering and backbiting refer to maliciously spreading false reports in order to hurt someone. Detracting, or what we more often call it today, disparaging refers to speaking words gauged to hurt the reputation of someone. Talebearing is the sin of gossip. Whispering is the most harmful kind of gossip, as we secretly listen to and repeat rumors about the reputed sins or failings of others with no way of knowing where the information came from or whether or not it is true. The effect of gossip is to unjustly injure the reputations of others and to bring distrust and hurt into relationships. If we loved others as we should we would not engage in gossip about them.
Scoffing is to mock or ridicule someone whereas reviling is to verbally insult or attack them. When Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard He was being reviled (Luke 7:34). When they laughed at Him for saying Jairus’ daughter was only sleeping when she was dead, they were scoffing at Him (Mark 5:39). Rash, harsh, and partial censoring is not rightly dealing with – for the sake of establishing the truth – what we believe to be bad behavior. When Eli rebuked Hannah for being drunk, he was wrong (1 Sam. 1:14). It was a rash and harsh censor that falsely accused Hannah. On the other hand when he only verbally rebuked his own sons for criminal behavior, this partial censor did not have the effect of establishing the truth and restoring trust between the people and their priests.
Misconstructing, or as we would say today, misconstruing intentions, words, and actions is what we find the priests doing to Jesus in the verse at the head of this article. Jesus never said “I will destroy this temple,” but “[You] destroy this temple,” (John 2:19). Likewise, Jesus was not talking about the temple building, but the temple of His own body, as John made clear (2:21). Here the priests purposely make Jesus sound like a destructive terrorist when in fact He was predicting their murder of Him and His bodily resurrection. Misconstruing the intentions, words, and actions of others is judging their hearts and taking things in the worst possible light in order to tear people down. It is the opposite of love which would give people the benefit of the doubt and seek to build them up. May God grant that we put far away from us all words that hurt!