Proverbs 13:3 ESV
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
Snitches get stitches, or so the warning runs, and gossips have acquaintances, not friends. Some people, it seems, just don’t know when to stop talking; others don’t know when to start. This proverb addresses both. He who speaks should be careful that what he says fits three criteria: is it true, is it good, and is it beautiful? These three questions are, as some will recognize, the classical Christian criteria for art; when it comes to speech, however, they are just as applicable, even if the application isn’t quite as obvious.
When we think about guarding out mouths, we often think entirely of keeping the bad stuff in, and while that’s definitely part of it- the second part of the proverb assures us of as much-, a guard isn’t just meant to keep bad stuff in or out. A city guard shouldn’t just be catching criminals trying to escape. He should also be facilitating the passing of the righteous, in order that they may prosper. The command God gives, to guard our mouths diligently, means not only restraining evil but cultivating good.
The question then arises: how are we to know the good from the evil? Sure, we can all tell that going around calling everybody a serial killer is bad policy, but what about the smaller things? Where precisely is the line that separates wise speech from foolish? Slander, gossip, even pleasant-to-hear lies, all these are harmful, deleterious to the moral character of the speaker and corrosive to all around him, whether by virtue of lacking truth, goodness, or beauty (fittingness) respectively.
A quick note as to procedure: while ‘truth’ is the traditional first of the criteria, we will today be examining it last, as an understanding of the other two will be necessary to clearly explain the nuances of the criterion. Additionally, due to the nature of this blog post as an overview, many concepts will be brushed upon and not full expounded; the full Biblical understanding of this topic is a subject upon which a veritable library of books could be and has been written.
The first standard, goodness, is the question, ‘Does this information benefit the person to whom I am communicating it; does it glorify God; does it lie within the boundaries of what God has given to me to communicate?’ Let’s examine each part of this question in more detail.
Does this information benefit the person to who I am communicating it? Some information harms rather than helping. A trivial example might be telling somebody that you thought his birthday cake was a little too dry; it might be true, but all it does is dampen the pleasure of the day. This doesn’t mean that the information shouldn’t hurt; it means that the information shouldn’t hurt unnecessarily. The long-term analysis of good should outweigh the bad, as best as you can judge. An example of such a choice would be choosing to inform a friend of her husband’s adultery: this will undoubtedly hurt, but it is necessary, particularly if you have already attempted to dissuade said husband from his ways and been unsuccessful (though great care should be exercised in conveying the bad news). Another, perhaps less morally difficult example, is the necessity of telling a bereaved parent of their child’s death.
Does this information glorify God? Paul commands the brothers in Philippi thus: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Some information does not conform to this command, and such information should be avoided. This does not mean avoiding all understanding of sin or evil; justice demands such an understanding, and willful blindness does not honor God. Knowledge of subjects such as sorcery and the demonic, however, is not meet for man to know, as an inspection of the Bible will show (1 Sam. 15:23 & more). In regards to such sins, only as much information as is needed to apprehend and condemn is right to possess (anything further being a danger rather than an aid, in contravention of the paragraph above).
Does this information lie within the boundaries of what God has given to me to communicate? God has not given every man the right to distribute as he wills all the information he possesses. For instance, if I know my friend’s credit card number, I shouldn’t go telling every random person I meet what that number is. That information is not mine to give. In a very real sense, that information is borrowed, not owned; I can use it, but I may not give it to another, because it isn’t actually mine.
Next week we’ll consider the other two criteria and who their authority ultimately stems from.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.