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Just idle words

Do you know anyone who talks and talks? They have a tough time sitting still and just not having to say something about what they have done, who they have been with, what they saw, and the list goes on. In fact, the topic they choose to talk about can sometimes just be 'talk for talk's sake', if you know what I mean. There is a problem with talking too much - too much gets known! I think God may have so many warnings in scripture about speaking against another person, gossip, and the like, simply because of the tiny spark it takes to ignite a huge fire! Today's "rule" for living is dealing with the words we speak about others.

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor." (Exodus 20:16)

In the simplest sense, this translates as engage in "no lies about your neighbor." I think the warning is best understood by another simple statement (not really from the Bible, just my own observations): No neighbor is THAT interesting so as to always be the object of our conversation without some form of exaggeration, speculation, or downright gossip entering into the conversation! Yes, they may irritate us. Yes, they may be constantly doing things that are questionable. Yes, they may have their faults that somehow come to the surface way too often. But...what about us? How many things do we do things that are questionable, or irritating? Probably equally as many!

The truth of the matter is no one knows all the facts. God's warning to us is to use the information we know or have "about" others in a wise manner. We don't always give the right "testimonial" about our neighbor when we only have the "facts" we garner from our limited view of them. The words we speak may indeed set a house on fire! I have been the brunt of 'words' that were shared, but the context wasn't known to those who were hearing about it after the fact. I have also been the one telling some of those same 'tales' out of school, if I were to be totally honest! None of us is really above talking 'about' another - but it is a dangerous thing to give any testimony that is a half-truth, outright fabrication, or simply without 'context'.

Scripture elaborates on this "rule" a little bit further: "Don't spread gossip and rumors. Don't just stand by when your neighbor's life is in danger. I am God. Don't secretly hate your neighbor. If you have something against him, get it out into the open; otherwise you are an accomplice in his guilt.  Don't seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God." (Leviticus 19:16-18) Easier said than done - right? To the idea of not speaking falsely against our neighbor, God adds the concept of gossip and rumors. Gossip is just any form of idle talk. This comes back to my statement about no neighbor being THAT interesting so as to always have something TRUTHFUL to say about them. The idea of not secretly hating our neighbor is also part of this equation. This comes back to the teaching of my mother: "If you cannot say anything nice about a person, don't say anything at all." I know this does not come from the Bible, but it definitely is biblical.

A rumor is the circulation of any portion of a report without actual confirmation of this report. In other words, it is observation mixed in with a little bit of speculation. I like to think of this as us assuming the motivation of others and adding our impression of their motives to the mix of the story being told. This is a very dangerous place to be - no one really can judge the motives of another man's heart. Only God has the inside view! There are times when the individual plainly reveals their motives - such as when someone says they are looking to secure a higher position and then does everything in their power to 'become known' to those who might pave the way for them to advance. These are not easily 'hidden' motives, but others are 'hidden' and are not easily known. Don't 'read into' another's motives - it could be dangerous.

To this, God adds the idea of holding grudges. Can you see how one adds to the other? When we begin to speculate as to the motives of another, almost "creating" a story in our head, we come to a place of internalizing an impression of the other person that "fits" our image (but may not always be reality). Don't get me wrong - there are genuinely some miserable people in our world who create misery for many others. We are just not supposed to hold onto their misery and make it our own - even when they attempt to impose it into our lives! Sometimes I think we talk about others so freely because it keeps the spotlight off of us. At other times, it is simply just idle talk - we lacked anything better to talk about at the moment. Either way, we are encouraged to consider our words carefully, speak only what is beneficial to be spoken, then remain silent on the rest. I know - - easier said than done. Just sayin!

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