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Mark Twain once wrote, “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you: the one to slander you, and the other to get the news to you.” How right he was.
There are few things in life more painful than being the target of mean-spirited comments. Most of us know from experience how devastating the weapon of an unbridled tongue can be. Whether one is on the giving end or the receiving end, we know how deeply gossip, slander, and detraction can wound.
Not only are these wounding words the opposite of what we would want others to do to us (cf. Mt 7:12), they are in a certain sense violations of the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” When you let fly with words of gossip, unwarranted criticism, or slander, you can inflict grievous injury to another’s reputation (and it goes without saying, to his feelings), even to the point of character assassination -- murdering that person’s right to a good name through your words.
This is why the Bible warns us so vehemently against these sins. Ponder these Bible passages and ask yourself and the Lord if you don’t have some repair work to do for failing in charity towards your neighbor (or wife, or husband, child, relative, co-worker, friend, or enemy).
Ecclesiastes 7:23 -- “Do not give heed to all the things that men say, lest you hear your servant cursing you; your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others.”
Sirach 5:11-14 -- “Be quick to hear, and be deliberate in answering. If you have understanding, answer your neighbor; but if not, put your hand on your mouth. Glory and dishonor come from speaking, and a man’s tongue is his downfall. Do not be called a slanderer, and do not lie in ambush with your tongue; for shame comes to the thief, and severe condemnation to the double-tongued.”
Sirach 28:15-18 -- “Slander has driven away courageous women, and deprived them of the fruit of their toil. Whoever pays heed to slander will not find rest, nor will he settle down in peace. The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen because of the tongue.”
Psalm 15:1-3 -- “O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart; who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor.”
Psalm 15:19-22 -- “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God . . .”
Matthew 5:21-22 -- “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”
Matthew 15:17-20 -- “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.”
Luke 12:2-3 -- “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
Ephesians 4:30 -- “[D]o not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
James 4:11-12 --”Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?”
And finally, we do well to keep in mind the Lord’s warning about the power, for good and for evil, that our words have and what will await us as recompense for those words.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment, men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt 12:36-37).
Patrick Madrid is an author, public speaker, and the publisher of Envoy Magazine. Visit his website at www.surprisedbytruth.com
Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 1:26-32; Colossians 3:5-10; 1 Timothy 3:3-6;
2 Timothy 3:1-9; 1 Peter 2:1-3.
Related sections in the Catechism: CCC 2465-2492