At one time or another, all of us have gotten in trouble with our tongue. Maybe it was saying too much, maybe it was saying too little. Perhaps it was our tone of voice or possibly the way in which we said it. Or maybe it was because you said something to the wrong person. There are almost endless ways in which our words can metaphorically come back to bite us if we are not careful.
As I was reading Proverbs this morning, I came across a caution for our words — a caution which, if heeded, can save us from a lot of trouble.
“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV)
Some of us seem to have a natural ability with putdowns. While a few are great doing it with the person present, our verbal talents seem to shine best when the target is nowhere to be found (this ensures that they will not be able to defend themselves or otherwise rebut our negative words). Proverbs is not here speaking of constructive criticism or addressing negative behavior with the purpose of restoring and helping the individual. This Hebrew word is often translated despise. This “belittling” reflects a mean-spirited heart attitude that is wrong and unloving.
Notice the use of the word neighbor. Don’t you find it true that we reserve our harshest words for those closest to us? Often it is a spouse or sibling. Perhaps it’s a literal neighbor or a coworker. But notice that remaining silent reflects understanding. When we are able to hold our tongue from spreading gossip and slander, we reflect a God-given realization that would not be glorified by heading down the path of ridicule.
Demeaning someone behind their back is a great act of cowardice. God does not want this to be a part of our daily speech. Rather, his word for us is to build each other up:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)
Be wise, don’t belittle.