Friday, May 29, 2009

Why Words Hurt


"From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence." Prov. 13:2

Why do words sometimes hurt? They may hurt if we have been criticized. Criticism calls into question our ability, our intelligence and even our character. Sometimes the criticism may be just and hurts because it is true, even if it is offered gently. If the criticism is offered with a air of condescension and judgment, it stings like a serrated knife. No one enjoys such verbal accosting.

Words may hurt if they are thoughtless or careless. A joke told at our expense can make us the center of ridicule. No one wants to be the object of such negative attention. It makes us feel helpless and vulnerable.

Words may hurt if they pinpoint a mistake we made or a weakness we have. This is known as fault finding. We know the difference in someone saying, "You were late," as a simple statement, and someone adding a cutting edge to it, as in, "You were late!", with a razor’s edge in their tone. Words spoken like this point out a failure we have committed or a weakness in our character. Such words are embarrassing.

I think these reasons for words hurting have several things in common. One, we take them personally. If we could just dismiss criticism, cutting humor and fault finding, we wouldn’t be bothered by them. But, they strike us painfully in the heart so they are hard to dismiss.

Secondly, these words single us out for negative attention. We either feel reduced, intimidated or embarrassed. All of these emotions are the result of feeling attacked and ridiculed. They may also make us angry, leading us to strike back verbally. Other people might slip off and cry.

There is a third reason for why words may hurt us: the speaker intends for them to. No doubt all of us are guilty of criticizing someone, using jabbing humor and nitpicking someone’s behavior or character. Sometimes we may have done it without really intending any harm. Still, we may have hurt someone very deeply.

Then again, we may be guilty of criticizing, ridiculing through humor and fault finding because, indeed, we do intend to damage someone. Solomon said that "the unfaithful have a craving for violence." Tremper Longman interprets this statement to read, "The appetite of the faithless is violence." Whereas righteous people use speech that is "wise and helpful," the unrighteous "prefer violence to satisfy their appetite. They would prefer to hurt others with their words." ("Proverbs," 284)

So, one significant reason words sometimes hurt is because people intend for them to. They have considered the harmful affect of criticism, mocking humor and fault finding, know it will do damage to another’s heart, and proceed to unload their verbal violence with calculated cruelty. The verbal explosion they assault someone with satisfies some perverse pleasure in their own hearts. They may feel insecure themselves, judged, alone, hurt and insignificant. Rather than working on their own character flaws and growing in maturity, they prefer to slam someone else to the ground.

If you are the victim of verbal assault, realize that it could be offered by someone who is naive and doesn’t know the damaging affects of their words. But, be aware that there are some people who fully intend for you to feel the sting of emotion you experience. Your best weapon is to diffuse their power by acknowledging their intent, praying for them, and refusing to play their game. Also, make sure that your own character is growing and maturing. Be one of the righteous wise whose words help others. Don’t be one of the foolish unfaithful who rely on violence to feel satisfied and get one over on someone else.

Warren Baldwin

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lord, I Want to See

Lord, I Want to See
Luke 18:35-43

My friend invited me into his dorm room at Harding Graduate School. He opened the door and walked in, holding it open for me to follow. "Over here," he said, as he led me through the apartment to his desk.

Something was different. As he shuffled through the papers on his desk, feeling them gingerly with his finger tips, I strained in the darkness to see what he was doing. Why doesn’t he turn the light on, I thought. Then I felt silly. My friend was blind.

Braille, seeing eye dogs, and other developments have aided the lives of the blind in modern times. They can read through their fingers. With eye dogs they can navigate even the largest and busiest of cities. Sometimes surgery can repair damaged eyes, or even replace eyes, allowing some blind people to see.

Life hasn’t always been that way for the blind.

In ancient times blindness not only darkened the eyes of the people who couldn’t see, it darkened the hearts of those who could. Any serious physical ailment was perceived as a curse from God. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he is born blind," the disciples once asked. (John 9:3) Their question betrays a popular concept at the time that blindness was the result of sin. The Pharisees make this point when they tell the blind man, "You were steeped in sin at birth ..." (v.34).

The greater darkness the blind experienced was not the darkness of their eyes but the darkness in the hearts of the seeing people. They lived in a world of prejudice and bigotry. In Israel they weren’t allowed in the temple. Parents distanced themselves from their own blind children. Most forms of employment were denied them. Most were reduced to standing on a corner with a cup crying, "Have mercy on me. Please help the blind. Please make a contribution."

Meeting Jesus

The blind man in Luke 18 lived everyday with the helplessness and hopelessness of being blind. He was begging on that fateful day when Jesus happened by.

Hearing the commotion he asked, "What’s going on?" Blindness handicapped his eyes but not his curiosity. "Hey, I hear all this noise and excitement but I can’t see it. Will someone tell me what is happening?"

"Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."

"Jesus? Is it really you? Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

We know this blind man by the designation "Blind Man," or "Blind Beggar." We don’t know his name. We wouldn’t have known his name if we lived then and walked by him. We might have glanced at his lifeless eyes, his unkempt appearance, his beggar’s cup, and passed by. We might have dropped a few pennies in his cup. Our children might have stopped and stared in curiosity. "What’s wrong with him, mom," they might ask. "Hurry along kids, come on. Just stay away from him." We wouldn’t want the sin of this stricken man to fall upon our kids.

That was probably the attitude of those who led the entourage Jesus was in. When they heard the blind man cry out for help they told him to hush up. We don’t know their words, but I think we know what they said. "Quiet man, Jesus doesn’t have time for you." Or, "Quiet, you blind old fool. Just sit there in your sin." Or even, "Why would Jesus, a holy man, take time for an old sinner like you?"

But the darkness in the man’s eyes didn’t mean there was darkness in his heart. The death in his eyes didn’t mean their was death in spirit. He cried out all the more, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Meeting the Blind Man

Jesus stopped.

A story line that abruptly shifts gears is a sign that something important is about to happen. A movie signals an important event with intensified music. The music or the change in the story all kick our imaginations into high gear. "Pay attention!"

Jesus has just predicted his death (Luke 18:31-34). The disciples are baffled by this prediction and wonder what Jesus is talking about. They walk along to their next appointment with Jesus, probably debating in their hearts, and maybe among themselves, what all this means. Their minds are preoccupied with deep theological thoughts.

Then they are interrupted by the rude and vociferous crying of a blind man who should be quiet. That is what they tell him: "Be quiet!"

But Jesus stops. "Bring him here," Jesus says. They do.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks.

"Lord, I want to see."

I spent a long time trying to figure out what he might mean by his statement: "I want to see."
- Jesus, there is an olive tree in my front yard that I have bumped into many times. Can you fix my eyes so I can see it?
- Mean kids trip me. Since I am cursed by God they aren’t nice to me. Why should they be if God isn’t? Will you give me sight so I won’t stumble and trip anymore?
- I want to see my mom and dad. They love me. But life is tough in a society that doesn’t like blind people. Jesus, when you heal my eyes you will also heal their hearts.
- Jesus, I want to see a girl. I’ve heard they are pretty, but I’ve never seen one. I want to see the sun shine in her hair. I want to see how a brightly colored dress enhances her beauty. I want to see her smile ... at me. I’ve heard the sneers and snickers. Now I want to see the smiles.
- Jesus, I want to be normal. I want to be able to walk into a crowd and not be ridiculed and stared even. I can’t see, But I can feel the stares and I can hear the snickers. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Remove that pain.
- I want to see so I can know I am a child of God. Have you rejected me? Do I have less value because I am blind? These thoughts hurt more than blindness.
- Finally, Jesus, I want you to heal my eyes so there can be healing in my heart from the rejection and doubt that assails me everyday.
- Jesus I want to see. I want to see with my eyes and I want to see with my heart.

"Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God." (Vv.42-43).

The Bigger Story

The Blind Man was now the Seeing Man. He could see the olive tree, his mom and dad, and a pretty girl. He would now be normal and fit in with society. His heart would heal with his eyes.

But something bigger happened besides this man seeing with his eyes. He could now see with his heart. "Your faith has healed you," Jesus said. But what was a desperate, hopeful faith before is now a deep conviction. He began to follow Jesus and praise God.

But the bigger story continues. What Jesus did for the blind man he does for all Israel. When Jesus came, Israel was a defeated, occupied nation. Roman legions conquered the area and now rule it with an iron scepter. Israel is not a free nation, she is in bondage.

Since the time of Isaiah Israel has looked for a redeemer to free her from bondage. Isaiah 61 says,
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn ..." (Vv.1-2).

Jesus has come to free Israel from this bondage. The miracles he performed did confirm he was the Son of God. They confirmed that redemption was here. Jesus came to preach good news - that he would heal broken hearts, proclaim freedom, release the blind from darkness, announce God’s favor upon the faithful, comfort the mourners, and bring the vengeance of God.

In keeping with the theme of Isaiah, Jesus said to Israel, "God is here. Follow me. Leave your chains. Leave your darkness. Leave your stale, religious conceptions. Open your eyes. Follow me."

Did people get the point? Jesus announced he was going to die and rise again. His own disciples didn’t understand. Lost in their thoughts they coldly dismissed the blind man. Jesus says, "Wait, this is who I came for. Blind man, come here. You are blind no longer." The blind man sees and praises God.

This is what Jesus came for all of Israel to do: see and praise. See Jesus as the person of God who has come to rescue us from every chain that binds us, and to praise him for his greatness.
The blind man did. Did Israel. Do we?

The real blind people in the Gospels aren’t the blind people. Notice how many of the physically blind come to believe in Jesus. The real blind are those who think they see, who think they know about life, who think they know the Bible, who think they are right, who think they have God figured out, who think God will act sometime in the future and ignore what he has already done and is currently doing. The real blind are those who do not see Jesus.

"Receive your sight."

That is what Jesus said to all of Israel. Some listened, some didn’t.

This is what Jesus wants to say to all of us. Those aren’t just words to give sight to eyes. Those are words to heal hearts, restore relationships, and offer hope and a place to belong.

Jesus asks all of us, "What do you want me to do for you." I hope we have an answer for him.

Warren Baldwin
May 24, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tale of Two Funerals


"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." Proverbs. 22:1.

Some people say, "I don’t care what people think about me." Well, maybe or maybe not. Some people say that in defense of their own poor behavior. They really do care. Either way, I think we should. The Bible says we should. There is something to a name, which the follow story illustrates.

He was somewhere in his late fifties to mid-sixties, I can’t remember. He lived at home with his 80+ year old mother. I should say he "mooched" off his mother. He was unemployed, lazy and a ne’er-do-well. He sat at home and drank, that was pretty much his life. And his mother enabled this man’s dysfunctional behavior. She permitted his behavior, coddled him, and even supported his behavior.

I did this man’s funeral. No more than fifteen people were present. It wasn’t because the weather was bad. Nor was it because no one knew him. The man spent his whole life in this little community. The reason so few people showed up at this man’s funeral is that people did know him, but didn’t regard his life as one worth honoring.

Why do we have funeral services? Having done dozens of them, I think I can say that there are two reasons. One, we want to support the family members and close friends of the deceased. They are grieving and we want them to know we care. Maybe our expressions of concern will touch their heart and strengthen their resolve to go on. The second reason we have funerals is to honor the deceased. Our presence at the funeral indicates that we feel the life of the deceased is worth remembering. We listen to the stories of the life this person lived. We laugh and cry at the pictures in the power point presentation. We nod our heads when the preacher says, "This man or woman lived a life worth remembering. We honor the one who has gone on.

I think one big reason people did not attend the man’s funeral I just told you about is because not many people felt his life was worth honoring. It was very sad.

Contrast his life and funeral with that of a fifteen-year old’s funeral I performed some years later. This lad lived a very short life. But it was a good life. Not that everything in this boy’s life was good. His dad left the family to pursue his number-one love: alcohol. His mom had to carry on with two pre-teen boys and a very limited income. It was tough situation. The boy was hurt and needed his dad. Men from our church stepped in and tried to help encourage the boy, take him on outings, mentor him.

Everyone who spent time with this kid loved him. He was very personable and friendly. He asked questions. He was forward enough that he would ask to come back to your house! And no one would tell him, "No!" Everyone was glad to have him back. He was great kid.

When a tragic accident claimed his life at age 15, the whole community mourned. Five hundred people showed up for the funeral. Five hundred people crammed into a room without air conditioning in the summertime to show love and support for the mom and little brother, and to honor the life of this young boy. His life was very short, but it was well lived, even under trying conditions.

After I performed the first funeral, I went home empty and sad. I told my wife that I did not want my life to end like this man’s - unacknowledged.

After I performed the boy’s funeral, I went home, sat in a chair on my front porch, and cried harder than I ever have in my adult life. The loss of this boy not only hurt the community, it broke my heart. And I thought, I want to have my life count like the life of this kid. I hope I can touch as many people in a meaningful way.

In my heart, I still grieve for what must have been the emptiness of the man. I also still grieve for my young friend who would be 24 years old today. But I also feel joy at the quality of his life, and look forward to seeing him again. Once and awhile I say, "I’ll see you on the other side, Cole."

(Note: the idea for this article came after reading An Obituary that really made me think... Please link over there for a good read.)

Warren Baldwin

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Process of Forgiving


Forgiveness is not something that happens automatically or easily. This is especially true if what you must forgive is something very personal and painful.

Colossians 3:12-13 says, "As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." The means by which we can be kind, gentle and forgiving is stated in v.14: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

If this verse isn’t challenging enough, Jesus himself said, "If you do not forgive men their sins, our Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:15. One apostle listening to these words was a bit slow in getting the message of forgiveness. He later asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, by seventy-seven times" (or seventy times seven times). Matthew 18:21-22.

These verses provide some very direct, sharp teaching about forgiving people who have hurt us and thus people at whome we are angry. Forgive, Jesus said, and don’t even keep track of the number of times you do it. Forgive, Paul said, because God has given you the love required to do it."

I believe that. But I still believe that forgiveness is not always automatic or easy. If it was, the Bible wouldn’t say so much about how and why we must forgive. If forgiveness was automatic or easy we would just do it.

I think forgiveness is a process, a process that sometimes takes months, even years, if the offense against us is serious enough. If you have been slandered, abused, violently mistreated, forgiveness may be a long, long process. If a family member has been violently mistreated, forgiveness may be a life-long process. That is ok, so long as you keep working at it.

The first step in the process of forgiveness is feeling hurt. If you have been badly mistreated and are hurt, admit that hurt. Stuffing the feeling or ignoring it will not help you or the situation. Stuffed feelings are still there, pressed deeply into the heart and psyche, breeding ugly thoughts and revenge. Instead, honestly and openly admit, "I have been hurt." Your emotions may swing from just wanting to forget it to feeling numb to crying. That’s ok, own those feelings.

The second step is anger, even hate, if the offense is serious enough. During this phase we may feel anger, rage, and even a hunger for revenge. We may want to retaliate and hurt the person who hurt us with as much or more severity. We all know what the Bible says about hate. It says, "Don’t do it!" We know it is wrong to hate, so when we feel hate we tend to deny it. Don’t. Again, if we are feeling this emotion the proper response is not to stuff it deep inside, where it will smolder and erupt violently later on. The thing to do is diffuse it through acknowledging the presence of hate and confessing it.

After confessing our hate and hatred we can move on to the third step in the process of forgiving: healing. Healing means we have worked through the hurt and hate and we experience a lessening of the negative emotions. We can actually begin to pray for the one who hurt us. We can move from wishing him harm to wishing well for him.

Finally, we can begin again. Beginning again means we can enter into and enjoy relationship again. In many cases it means we can function again with the one who offended us. It means we can look objectively at the conflict situation and even take responsibility for our part in it. Beginning again is very, very refreshing. (Note: The above 4 points are from Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve").

How can we possibly work through the pain of hurt and hate to healing and beginning again? I’ll repeat Colossians 3:14: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." God has blessed us with a loving and compassionate spirit. This is our power and ability to forgive.

John Patton has written: "Human forgiveness is not an act but a discovery that I am more like those who have hurt me than different from them; that I am capable of also hurting others very deeply. I am able to forgive when I discover that I am in no position to forgive ... at its heart is the recognition of my reception into the community of sinners - those affirmed by God as his children." ("Is Human Forgiveness Possible?", p.16).

This is a humbling statement: I am like those who hurt me. Haven’t I hurt others? Sure. I am part of a community of sinners. Can I claim to be without sin? No. I need to forgive others for the simple reason that I need others to forgive me.

How do we know when we have successfully navigated the steps of hurt, hate, healing and beginning again? One writer answered this by saying, "You know when you have forgiven when you can wish the other person well." (Managing the Congregation, p.372).

I am thankful to God for the forgiveness we have received from him. Rom. 6:8. I am also thankful that he has given us the means by which we can forgive others: his love.

Warren Baldwin
September 7, 2008

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Washing Feet

John 13:12-17; 1 Peter 4:7-11

Friends enjoy doing favors for each other. Friends don’t do favors just to have favors done in return. But, they do know that they will receive favors - because friends do return kind deeds. But with friends, there is never a sense of manipulation. You know what I mean by manipulation, don’t you? A manipulator is someone who does you a favor when it is convenient for them and then, in a short time, calls you back and says, "Remember when I did you that favor? Well, now I need you to return it." After a while people quit accepting that person’s favors, because they always come with a price tag.

Jesus just did a favor for his disciples in John 13. Thirteen hungry men with dirty feet are gathered for a meal. Jesus does the service of taking a towel and basin of water and getting on his hands and knees to wash their feet. He humbles himself to serve them. He does them a favor.

What is the next step? If he is like some people he would say, "Hey guys, remember the favor I did for you? Well, now I want you to do me a favor." But Jesus doesn’t resort to manipulation. He does make a demand: he does place a heavy burden of the Gospel upon them. But it is not manipulation. V.12b-16: "Do you understand what I have done for you? Now that I ... have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." Jesus doesn’t look for any favors to be done for him. His whole focus is ... "I have served you. Now you serve others."

This is a nice saying. Whenever the story of the washing of feet is recited, this part of the story is read. "I did you a good deed, now you do others a good deed." But this is not nice saying. If we think this is nice, we don’t understand it. There is nothing pleasant about it. This is a challenge. A challenge that if we understand and accept, will push us farther than we would ever care to go on our own in ministering to other people.

"I have set you AN example ..." Jesus said. "This is ONE example of my service to others," Jesus said. And his example of service to others continues later in this story. Jesus serves until it kills him. This is not an example of doing each other nice little favors. This is a story about dying for each other. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Remember about 20 years ago the plane that crashed landing in Washington D.C.? It was riding low and landed in the water, so not all of the passengers died on impact. It was winter time, and a number of passengers could be seen floating in the icy waters. One man couldn’t be content with just watching from the bank and waiting for boats. He jumped into the water, grabbed people, and swam to the shore with them. He managed to save the lives of several people. Finally, when he came to the bank with the last person, he sank under the water. Exhaustion and cold overtook him. He sank. He drowned. He saved the lives of several people, but he died himself. He lost his own life. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Remember almost 8 years ago when planes crashed into the World Trade Towers? While thousands of people were rushing out of the buildings, policemen and firefighters were rushing in. They were going in to save lives. They were going to serve the needs of the people who were trapped inside. Then a horrible thing happened ... the buildings collapsed. Many of the people trapped inside and killed were ... policemen and firefighters who went inside voluntarily. They saved the lives of other people. They served people they didn’t even know. But they died themselves.

Most of us will NEVER be called upon to jump into icy waters and pull people out of the water. Most of us will NEVER be called upon to rush into burning buildings and pull people out of the fire. But all of us are still called to wash feet. To give of ourselves. To serve others. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Warren Baldwin

Monday, May 11, 2009

East From West

East From West

"As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:11,12.

This verse is cooling for someone sweating under the intense heat of sin, it is freeing for someone struggling under the oppressive weight of guilt, and it is refreshing, like a gust of cool air, for someone suffocating from shame and embarrassment.

How far is the east from the west? Well, that can’t be calculated. The distance is impossible to measure. Not only is the east far from the west, it runs in a different direction, meaning the two can never meet. "East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet."

That means that when God removes our sin, it is so far away from us it can never entangle and ensnare us again. It is gone and traveling in an opposite direction from us. Never shall we meet that sin again.

Of course, we may, and likely will, sin again. That is why we keep a penitent heart. That is why we keep crying out, "Lord, forgive me (us)." In his kindness God keeps forgiving! "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." (103:10). In his grace he removes our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west.

There is another angle to this verse. In the original language of the Old Testament the word for "from us" also means "from himself." (Holladay, Psalms Through 3,000 Years, p.325). So, not only does God remove our sin "from us," he also removes it from himself. Our forgiven sin is as far from God as the east is distanced from the west. Our forgiven sin is completely and irrevocably removed from God’s presence. Do you realize how powerful that reality is?

Personal shame is a constant companion to many of us. Shame is the realization that deep down inside ourselves we are much more sinful, evil and despicable than the image we cast to the world outside ourselves. Shame is what causes us to turn our head and avoid eye contact. It is what makes us cry in private rather than share our sin and pain with someone else lest they reject us. Shame is that feeling that we are dirty and will never be good enough for ourselves, others, or God. Shame is one of the most potent self-destructive secret attitudes.

There is a good reason for shame. Shame is the realization that we are sinners. It can be the motivating factor that drives us to our knees before a trusted friend to pour out our hearts. It is the driving force behind our cry for mercy before the throne of God. But once we have poured out our hearts to a brother and God, shame has served its purpose. The sin behind the shame has been sent east as we travel west. We need to send shame packing with it.

Because of shame a husband could not look his wife in the eye and beg, "I am sorry for my sin, please forgive me." He left her instead. Shame caused an abused 14 year old girl to abort her baby and begin a run of dangerous relationships for ten years. A young drug addict whose baby ate some of her drugs was driven to the brink of insanity by the shame of her irresponsibility.

I wish I could go back to all three of these people and say, "Hey, guess what! God can remove your sin. And with that, he can remove your shame. He removes it from you and he also removes it from his presence. That means God welcomes you into his presence. There is not one sin, not one bad decision, not one instance of abuse that you have suffered, that has to keep you from the loving compassion of God."

"As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from himself. That means we can lift our heads, look God in the eye, and say, "Thank you." It means we can live again.

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday, May 6, 2009



"A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much." Proverbs 20:19.

Preachers get teased about talking too much. We do talk a lot. Some of it is expected, like sermons and Bible classes. It would be unusual for a preacher to stand up on Sunday morning and say, "I’m sorry, but I have nothing to say this morning." It might be unusual, but it might also be appreciated!

But the idea in this proverb is not about talking too much; it is about talking irresponsibly. There is a difference between someone who talks incessantly, even though that can be terribly annoying and unnerving, and someone who talks irresponsibly. The idea of talking irresponsibly is connected to the first part of the phrase about a gossip betraying a confidence. Someone who talks too much can betray a confidence, but it is not the AMOUNT of the talking taking place that is the problem in this verse. It is the intent and the irresponsibility of the talker that is in focus here: Gossip.

Gossip is a killer. Several verses in Proverbs address the problem of gossiping:
Proverbs 11:13 - "A gossip betrays a confidence ..."
Proverbs 16:28 - "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates friends."
Proverbs 26:20 - "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."

There is not much good that can be said about gossip. Gossip is more than annoying and unnerving: it is destructive. In Romans 1 Paul lists gossip along with sexual sins and murder as evidence of God’s wrath being revealed against us. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 Paul lists gossip as one of the sins that he fears will disrupt the church.

God’s teachers (Solomon and Paul) were both concerned about building healthy communities. They wanted families and churches to live together in openness, honesty and love. They wanted people to live together in mutual respect and concern for the other.

Gossip undermines all of these healthy, constructive attitudes. Gossip is the opposite of openness and honesty. Gossip is conducted in quiet and in secret, hidden from the view of others. It’s message is whispered and cherished as "choice morsels" (Proverbs 18:8).

Gossip is the opposite of love and respect: you can not love and respect the person you are vilifying with malicious secrets. Nor do you really love the person you are passing on the delectable morsels to, since you are drawing them into your sin with you. Friends don’t do that to friends. "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks irresponsibly."

Both Solomon and Paul prefer words that are constructive: words that encourage, promote healthy community relations, and build character in others. For example, in Proverbs 10:21 Solomon writes, "The lips of the righteous nourish many ..." The word for "nourish" in Hebrew is "to shepherd." So, the words of the righteous man "provides the nutrition necessary for the development of godly character." (Dave Bland, Proverbs, 116). "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29).

A gossip talks irresponsibly and destructively. He shatters community, whether in a family, church, or other social setting. But a wise man talks encouragingly and constructively. He talks responsibly. A wise man nourishes the hearts and minds of others. He builds community in human relations. He benefits those who listen by providing nourishment for the development of their godly character. The gossip or the wise man ... which one do you think is blessed by God?

Warren Baldwin

(From the forthcoming book, "Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks, and other Gems from Proverbs)