Christianity 201

September 7, 2015

Hurting Others With Our Words

Today we turn to pastor and author Chip Ingram.  Last week at Thinking Out Loud we looked at relationships in the church which can disintegrate slowly over a period of time, and those which fade quickly due to a variety circumstantial issues. But often a relationship blows up in a split second over something someone says…

Speak No EvilWhy We Hurt Others with Our Words

Has someone ever said something judgmental and negative behind your back that questioned your motive, integrity or character? If so, how did it make you feel when you found out about it? Probably pretty rotten, right? Nothing is more painful than when someone says something about you that is blatantly untrue.

In fact, few things have the power to ruin a relationship like critical, accusing, defaming, hostile and inaccurate or even slanderous words.

All of us can probably think a time when we were hurt by someone’s words. And we probably know of at least one good relationship that was destroyed, a church that was split, or a family that doesn’t talk any more because of hurtful words.

The Bible is clear that we’re to stop “tearing one another down” by our “slanderous” speech: Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

So, what is “slanderous” speech? It’s to say something untrue or negative about another person. More specifically, it’s to say something about someone (that may or may not be true), but when we say it, our motive is to make others think less of that person.

Most of the time, we’re not even aware that we’re using slanderous speech. It happens in our normal conversation and even in our prayer requests. Often, it’s not intentional or even willful. It’s the kind of speech that rolls off our tongue and doesn’t ever come to our minds.

So how can we know if our speech is slanderous? It’s harmful if the one who is listening has a lower or negative view of a person we were talking about as a result of our conversation.

Why do we wound others with our words? Why do even sincere Christians engage in this behavior? There are two reasons:

1. Unconsciously, when it comes to relationships we buy the lie: “If other people would shape up, then my life would work out.” When we have a conflict with our spouse, our boss, kids, or even a conflict in a church situation, it’s much easier to cast blame and assume that the problem is the other person. We do this in order to justify our own behavior. Rather than face our own insecurity and fear of being rejected, we put down the other person first. Sound familiar?

2. We have a perverse appetite for information. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts. (Proverbs 26:22)  We love gossip because we love to hear yucky stuff about other people. Go through any grocery store checkout line and you’ll see that almost all of the magazines displayed are geared toward finding out the gossip about celebrities. They tell us who’s broken up with so and so and who is living with someone else.

Many of us have gotten caught in the web of speaking against another person. I believe that this is so common even among Christians that it’s not a question of “if” this is happening, but a matter of “how much” we are doing it. Until now, perhaps many of us haven’t even thought it was a big deal. But it is. There are some sins that we think are small, but God thinks are really big – and slanderous speech is one of them. Our words have the potential to deeply injure others.

This week, we’ll begin the series Five Lies that Ruin Relationships. In it, we will ask and answer the question: “Do wrong beliefs produce wrong behavior?” We’ll also identify five common lies we believe that prevent us from having the kind of relationships God longs for us to have. During our time together, it’s my hope and prayer that we’ll discover the power in knowing and applying God’s truth to our relationships.

[Click the link above to navigate Chip’s blog and read the rest of the series.]


December 20, 2011

Know Any Revilers?

Usually the search for material to include here runs anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. This time around, I was a full hour looking for something that would satisfy my “depth meter” and I was finally rewarded with the discovery of a blogger who is more Christianity 301 than 201.  Scott Nassau lives in Los Angeles and specializes in Hebrew/Jewish studies.  He doesn’t blog often — this is his third most recent piece and it appeared in February — but the posts are worth waiting for, I guess.  This one was originally titled Why ‘Reviler’ is an Important Word.

I was recently prompted by my friend Joseph Barkley to look up the word reviler when he referenced the word in passing during his challenging sermon. While I like to think of myself as erudite, I was perplexed by my inability to provide a precise definition for the word. In the last few months I spent many hours studying for the GRE and have enjoyed the influx of new words I have added to my repertoire. Reviler was not one of those words. So I looked it up, and discovered that it refers to a person who criticizes with abusive language or in an insulting manner. If this were the extent of my research then this would not provide a very entertaining account.

In English Bibles, this word appears infrequently. The only two instances occur within Paul’s list of various vices (1 Cor 5:11; 6:10). The lists do not provide much context for understanding the meaning of the word; they simply indicate that a reviler does not accurately reflect God’s character and will not inherit God’s Kingdom. In these lists, Paul employs the Greek word loidoros, which simply refers to a verbally abusive person. The word also appears a few times in the Greek translation (LXX) of the Hebrew Bible, all of which refer to a quarrelsome or contentious person (Prov 25:24; 26:21; 27:15; Sirach 23:8). The original Hebrew word madon, the basis for the Greek translation loidoros, refers to strife, quarreling or scolding. The Proverbs teach that a quick-tempered person provokes strife, but the one who is slow to anger calms a quarrel (Prov 15:18; if so inclined, a quick glance at a few of these Proverbs will lead to some very entertaining reading, Prov 16:28; 17:14; 18:19; 21:19; 22:10; 23:29; 25:24; 26:20-21; 27:15; 28:25; 29:22).

By this point I have certainly bored every reader with this overly technical detail for a seemingly insignificant word. Yet the two related Greek words in the New Testament may help elucidate this issue further. First, the noun loidoria refers to speech that is highly insulting or abusive (1 Tim 5:14; 1 Pet 3:9). Peter tells the community of faith not to return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others (1 Pet 3:9). The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible uses this word to depict God’s anger with Israel when they complained and grumbled while in the desert (Ex 17:7; Num 20:24). Proverbs describes the person who spreads insults as a fool (Prov 10:18). Second, the verb loidoreo refers to the act of verbally disparaging a person (John 9:28; Acts 23:4; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Pet 2:23). In the Septuagint, the verb continues to describe contentious or vituperative abuse, but can extend to an altercation, resulting in physical harm (Ex 21:18; see also Gen 49:23; Ex 17:2; Num 20:3, 13; Deut 33:8; 2 Mac. 12:14).

The underlying Hebrew word riv, behind the nominal and verbal Greek words, has a wide range of meaning, including both legal and nonlegal quarrels. The basic meaning of the verb relates to striving. In non-legal applications, the verb can describe either a physical brawl (Gen 26:20-22; Ex 21:18; Judg 11:25) or a verbal quarrel (Gen 31:36; Ex 17:2; Num 20:3). In legal situations, the verb describes the process of bringing a lawsuit against another party (Ex 23:2; Is 3:13; Jer 2:29; Mic 7:9). The nominal form of the word can also describe both non-legal disputes (Gen 13:7; Is 58:4) and legal litigation (Ex 23:3-6).

So why spend so much time discussing the tedious background to a word typically overlooked in modern vernacular? The reason? Obviously, Paul thought it a serious enough offense to mention it along with other vices; therefore, it is an important subject for those who seek to exemplify godly character. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of this word has caused God’s people to either overlook vituperative speech or, even worse, passively accept such behavior as appropriate.

Sometimes the religious community can be the biggest perpetrators of reviling speech. Some Christian leaders (I will not mention any by name) are notorious for singling out certain sins and verbally assaulting those who struggle with said vices; yet, those who condemn others in an abusive manner are equally guilty of offending God’s righteous standard. At this point, some may take issue with me, thinking that I am advocating an amoral approach. This is entirely not true. When looking at God’s standard for holiness, we cannot simply choose to focus on certain sins that offend us and then decide to ignore the others. We are all broken, which means that we do not have the right to verbally assault others merely because we think their behavior is more offensive to God than our own. One of the reasons Paul includes revilers in his vice list is because it misrepresents God as an emotional demagogue.

A reviler is not only a person who verbally assaults others, but it also includes those with a contentious attitude. God expresses his anger with Israel for their cantankerousness when they grumble against him in the desert, because it illustrated their ingratitude (Ex 17:7; Num 20:24). Incessant complaining dishonors God, because it indicates that we are not thankful for the innumerable blessings God has provided for us. A quarrelsome attitude is equivalent to bringing a lawsuit against God, accusing him of wronging us with some great injustice.

Why is reviler such an important word? It is significant, because it deeply offends God. I know that it is very easy to justify our discontent or overlook our verbal assaults on others, but, if we are serious about reflecting God’s holiness, we cannot treat this behavior as acceptable. On our refrigerator we have a magnet challenging us to remove Lashon Hara, the Evil Tongue, from our midst. In regards to reviling, I think that magnet is appropriate. We can emulate God’s character not only by our actions, but also through our speech.

~Scott Nassau