I’ve found that believers often forget about the preciousness of bearing the image of God. This image is God’s fingerprints all over us. It’s in the ways we behave. It is in the way we interact with one another. It is in our ability to think logically and rationally. The image of God exists in all of mankind. Without exception, this image is bestowed on every single human. Beasts don’t have it; animals were not given this honor. Through the fall, when sin entered into the world, that image became maimed, but the imprint is still there. That image is important, it is a privilege.
The reason I say all of this upfront is because we’ve got a mortal flaw (we’ve got many, actually.) We’re tempted to try and strip others of this God-given image. We attempt to make some individuals seem as though they are less-than made in the image of God. Sub-human. We imitate secular culture in this way: we think so little of the Imago Dei, that we prop ourselves up as ultimate and degrade everyone else we encounter who doesn’t measure up to ourselves. Humans, being crafty, do this in many ways, but the most prevalent and the most socially acceptable means is: gossip.
I think that we like to make gossip a sort-of pet. We feed the appetites we have to gossip, we call it by cute names, and we get a morbid satisfaction from watching it continue to grow into something bigger. But slander isn’t cute. It’s an assassination of the image of God.
Gossip is one of those things that finds strength in numbers. If your mother is doing it, surely it is permissible for you to do it as well. If your mentor is doing it, she would certainly not mislead you. If your friend is participating, maybe it’s all in good fun. Sin loves company, and gossip is no exception.
When we allow the weaknesses of our fleshly desire to converge with the power that lies in our tongues, we butcher character and we tear down the image of God that exists in that individual. When we gossip, when we slander, we commit and egregious act that desecrates that very image that it is our privilege to bear.
The power of our tongue is vast, and the weapon it yields when unbridled is matchless. It has the power to alter perceptions. It can persuade at the drop of a hat. It manipulates, demeans, and degrades. It can change minds. It can murder.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. James 1:26
This person’s religion is worthless. Does this not demonstrate the power of the tongue? It nullifies works, it repudiates religion. That is the power that our words hold. Whether or not our religion is valuable is determined by our ability to speak well or hold our tongue. There is power in the way that we speak about people.
We find ourselves forgetting that our words have power. We love to live blissfully unaware that what comes from our mouths can either edify and build-up or demean and tear-down. Or worse—we don’t care about the power of our words. There’s a strange satisfaction that comes along with slandering a fellow man. It’s not a satisfaction that brings joy to us, instead it’s a satisfaction that furthers us in our misery; gossip is gratifying because it allows us to wallow in our own fleshly and despicable desires, and it allows us to bring others down into that pit with us, too. It’s easy not to care about the power of words. What’s hard is yielding our power of preference for the well-being and good of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But as is with many cases, the harder route is the path to true joy.
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
I think some of us find the strength to gossip if we know what we’re saying is true. We trick ourselves into believing the lie that because something is true gives good reason to tell that fact to your best friend or your mother or your sister. Or we tend to put the disclaimer on our gossip: “well, if she was here right now, I’d totally say this all to her face,” as if that would make it permissible. Maybe. But more likely it wouldn’t.
Let’s think critically about what Ephesians 4:29 is saying. What comes from our mouths should be edifying to the body, and in turn glorifying to God. “Corrupting talk” seems to be a pretty broad spectrum. And I don’t think that is by mistake. Instead, I think the Apostle knew very well that we needed a broad spectrum; we need this so that we spend time discerning what words cause corruption and what words cause edification. He knew we needed a rubric that would require and demand us to pause before we actually said anything that had the potential to strip someone of their dignity.
Matthew 12:36 reminds us that, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Each of us will have to give an account for the words we choose. Each of us will have to file through the many excuses we’ve had to speak carelessly. Unfortunately for us, reasons like, “but my mentor was doing it, too,” or “but at least I didn’t lie,” won’t really seem like very good reasons anymore.
This problem runs so deeply in our society that it is a profound sin among believers. We will do just about anything to excuse and condone the sins that we like to commit. We are good at making sure our fleshly desires are well-fed, never hungry. We are fearful in keeping one another accountable for the words we choose. We struggle with self-control over our tongues. We’re wary of cutting a conversation short that begins to get too unwholesome. But there is hope for overcoming this sin and it will altogether testify that Jesus is greater than our flesh and our desires. When we participate in a conversation about a fellow image-bearer, let’s leave the hearers with a higher view of that person. Let’s take away the landing-pad for gossip. Let’s starve our appetites for slander. Let’s fixate ourselves to the One worth talking about, instead.
Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.