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Volume 18, Issue 2: Femina

The Piercings of a Sword

Nancy Wilson

Proverbs is full of insight and observations about the power and effects of the tongue. The tongue can either be a wellspring of life, or it can be the source of much grief: "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health" (Proverbs 12:18). Backbiting, criticism, cattiness, tattling, and being a busybody are all ways of stirring up mischief with the tongue. It is not surprising that the terms we use for this are backstabbing or backbiting. Words are used as a weapon by those who don't mind fighting dirty, shooting, stabbing, and biting behind the back. This is like the piercings of a sword: it inflicts pain and does real damage.

In Psalm 15, the psalmist asks, "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" The answer given in verses 2 and 3 includes, "He that. . . speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue. . . nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour."
God takes the evil tongue very seriously. He doesn't want any backbiters in His tabernacle; He will not have them on His holy hill. The contrast in these verses is between the one who speaks the truth in his heart and the one who takes up a reproach against his neighbor. If you speak the truth in your heart, you are less likely to take up a reproach. And once you have taken up a reproach, backbiting will come next.
What is backbiting? It is spreading slander with the desire to hurt, annoy, humiliate, or damage someone's reputation. It is spiteful, malicious, and false. The young widows in I Timothy 5 don't have enough to do, and so they start wandering from house to house and "speaking things which they ought not." They are talking too much about other people's affairs. This kind of careless speaking usually puts a spin on the real story, embellishing, exaggerating, attributing motives, complaining, and just plain making stuff up. And the truth is, God hates it.
Not only are the young widows singled out regarding their tongues, but deacons' wives in 1 Timothy 3 must not be slanderers, and the older women who are qualified to teach the younger women in Titus 2 must not be false accusers. It seems pretty clear that Scripture requires women of all ages and all callings to be very careful with their conversation. Sinning with the tongue can be the means for "the adversary to speak reproachfully" (1 Tim. 5:14); it can disqualify a husband for the office of deacon; and it can prevent the older women from teaching the younger women. In other words, it is a hindrance to the health and productivity of the church.
There is much provocation in this world; we all have many temptations to take up a reproach and a grievance. People sin and they do it all the time. While there is much need to extend forgiveness and put on tender mercies, it is far easier to be offended, annoyed, and hurt. And if we allow the annoyance to take root, it turns into bitterness overnight. Once the grievance takes root in the heart, out of the mouth comes the nasty fruit of backbiting, slander, and even lies: all piercings of a sword.
Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:24). Once it has come out of the mouth, it betrays the contents of the heart. If a reproach resides in the heart, backbitings will shoot out the lips, and there is no way to assess all the damage done. Repentance has to begin with an acknowledgment of the bad heart attitude; then restitution has to be made for the careless words.
Women in the church are called to be standing in their duties: praying, rejoicing, worshiping, loving, forgiving. Women are to adorn themselves with good works (1 Tim. 2:10), and God has given them many resources to enable them to be helpers in the gospel, supporting and comforting, bestowing and sacrificing, all which then builds the church community up into a beautiful building. It is the foolish women (Prov. 4:1) who tear the place down with their own hands and their own mouths.
But "the tongue of the wise is health." Proverbs describes the mouth, lips, and tongue of the righteous as a well of life, as choice silver, as feeding many, as bringing forth wisdom, and as sweet to the soul and health to the bones. Women have an obligation to use their lips to build up and not to tear down, to feed rather than poison, and to make healthy rather than wound. This has a huge impact on the home, the church, and the community. When women refuse to participate in backbiting and careless criticism, it preserves the unity and health of the church. But when they criticize and complain, it causes division and factions that tear down and destroy.
Ask yourself a few questions about your own record of tongue behavior: Does your husband receive food, wisdom, sweetness, and health from you? Do your parents? Your children? Do your elders and your pastor rejoice to have such a wise woman in the congregation? Are you quick to see and point out the faults of others? Do you speak carelessly or uncharitably? Are you quick to listen to reproaches, believe them, and pass them on to others? What is the tone in your home? Are you tearing people down or building them up?
We need a guard on duty all the time to keep us from unwise, careless words. Psalm 141:3 asks God to be this guard: "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." This is the attitude we must adopt if we want to be done with careless, destructive words.

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