Puritan Sayings (3)

My mother, like so many other mothers, used to tell me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all. This nearly ubiquitous phrase, which now thanks to the internet is the subject of countless memes, is thoroughly biblical, and so, not surprisingly, puritan. Here then, we have another example of a popular contemporary saying that has a connection with the puritans of old.
 
James 4:11 says, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” To speak evil of another is to defame, slander or speak derogatorily about others, especially behind their back. Speaking evil can take many forms. Robert Johnstone, in his commentary on James (republished by the Banner of Truth Trust), wrote: “The sin of evil-speaking exhibits itself in mainly these forms: the propagation of what is known to be a calumnious lie,-the exaggeration or distortion of truth,-the hasty passing on of what may or may not be truth, but certainly has not been inquired into,-and the needless telling of what is known to be truth.”
 
Johnstone’s last form of evil speaking is worth highlighting: “the needless telling of what is known to be truth.” We might justify our evil speaking with the claim that it’s true, but if there is no good and necessary reason to expose someone’s fault, then we are speaking evil of one another. Proverbs 10:12 says “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”  
 
The destructive power of evil speaking or slander is well-known. We are able to destroy a person’s or a business’ reputation so that people will look at them differently or even stay away from them altogether. Slander destroys relationships, and may even tear apart best friends (Prov. 16:28). James Boice has said that “more damage had been done to the church and its work by gossip, criticism, and slander than by any other single sin.”
 

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