Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Today we conclude our meditations on the fruit of the Spirit with self-control. Permit me to use this as an opportunity to clarify some things I said last week about gossip.
One of the chief obligations that we have as the people of God is to exercise self-control over our tongues. Providing that we are exercising self-control, there are times when speaking about an individual or situation is not gossip. For example, it is not gossip to seek counsel. If you were struggling with a decision, endeavoring to act in wisdom, then Solomon would urge you to seek counsel. Seeking counsel necessitates that you explain the situation about which you need counsel. Remember that the principle the Shunammite revealed was that we beware telling our problems to those who are not part of the solution. Seeking counsel is not gossip because the person to whom you are speaking is part of the solution – but beware gossiping under cover of seeking counsel.
Likewise, speaking is not gossip when you are endeavoring to understand. Paul commands wives to be quiet in the public assembly and to ask their husbands at home if there is something they do not understand. And Solomon urges us to seek for understanding like silver or gold. This implies that seeking understanding, asking questions, is not gossip provided that we’re prepared to learn from the questions we’re asking and that we’re not simply asking questions to vent the matter more openly.
Finally, Scripture tells us that it is not always wrong to speak negatively, even harshly, about specific individuals, provided that such words are in accordance with God’s judgment. Jesus calls Herod a fox, Paul called down a public curse on Alexander the coppersmith, and John in his third epistle rebukes Diotrephes publicly for his arrogance and pride. If the charge is accurate then it is not always wrong to pronounce such – indeed, at times, it may be wrong not to do so. The important point is that in all cases, we must exercise self-control – governing our tongues in accordance with God’s Word.
James warns us that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (3:6). With the tongue we can bless our neighbor and with the tongue we can destroy a city. So Solomon observes that “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Pr 21:23). Our tongues can get us into trouble not only with men but with God Himself. God hates a lying tongue; he hates those who cause strife; he hates talebearers and malicious gossips. God takes our tongues seriously.
Because of the seriousness with which God takes the tongue, the instruction of the Church is to address sins of the tongue routinely. Paul contrasts righteous elders with “idle talkers” – those who pratter on and on about their own opinions rather than speaking the Word of God. He commands that deacons not be “double-tongued” – speaking this way and that just to gain the approval of others. Rather, they must be men who speak the truth with integrity. Paul also insists that the female assistants to the deacons are not to be slanderers – that is, those who use their tongues to destroy the credibility of others. And in his letter to Titus, Paul urges Titus to instruct the older women according to the same principle. We must govern our tongues. We must exercise self-control in our use of the tongue.
So reminded of our calling and obligation to manifest self-control in the use of our tongues, let us kneel and confess that we have often failed to do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.