Before gangrene sets in
Of the undesired junk littering church life talk can be the most destructive. The Apostle Paul wrote to his younger friend Timothy about the horrible effects of what he called "irreverent babble". He wrote, "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16). The follow-up verses indicate the unhealthy conversation in question was actually a misrepresentation of apostolic teaching regarding the second coming of Christ. But, Paul correctly labeled it "irreverent babble" because it didn't produce hope in those who repeated it. It created ungodliness and would infect the body like gangrene. This kind of talk was infectious. This kind of infection was deadly. To Titus he warned about "...many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers..." (Titus 1:10). He added, "They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach" (Titus 1:11).
The sins of the tongue are a consistent theme of Scripture. Track through the Epistles and annotate the verses about gossip, rumors, quarrels, idle and empty words, and divisive conversation that produced envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and friction among believers. The verbal sins of a flaming tongue were a source of difficulty then and are responsible for great discord and conflict if left unchecked in the church today. Even with a growing awareness and implementation of church discipline the contemporary congregation can be spiritually inhibited when junk talk spreads through the body like an infectious disease. Spiritual leaders must deal with this kind of mess before the contagion disables the body.
Several directional guideposts must regulate unhealthy talk in the church.
1. Unchecked, this kind of body language will continue.
The reference to gangrene is particularly graphic, an ugly image of a poisoned
body growing more diseased as it courses through the members. Leaders often
will not address the sinful behavior of loose talk because of fear. The import of
Scripture, however, is that it should be addressed. Spiritual leaders should be
the ones to monitor the influence of junk talk within the body.
2. Scriptures relating to Christian behavior, including talk, should be taught in
the church with regularity as a long term solution to the impact of
Much of the New Testament regulates the internal relationships of believers
within the church family. To ignore these is to minimize the expectations of
living the Christian life in every arena of human behavior.
3. Gossip, rumors, and other language sins should be addressed specifically
when they are discerned within the church.
This requires courage and wisdom on the part of the spiritual leaders. Matthew
18:15-17 is a strong reference point when confronting people about any sin
that offends you or the body of Christ. The Titus passage mentioned above
rightly recommends the silencing of anyone upsetting the body with improper
talk. The leader should be sensitive to avoid becoming part of the talk problem
by being very wise before approaching another. However, the talk that harms
the body must be silenced.
4. There are times when public denouncement of improper talk should occur.
On several rare occasions I had to address matters of junk talk from the pulpit.
These were usually times when rumors or gossip had happened over an
extended period and the truth had been obscured by too much conversation. I
was always very sensitive to the people involved but was convicted that
correction was required.
5. Intentionally malicious people should always be disciplined.
Some verbal miscues are innocent. Many are purposefully designed to hurt
others. These should be examined according to Scriptural guidelines and then
corrected by implementation of church discipline over the perpetrators. If the
church doesn't have a written church discipline policy these should be
investigated, reviewed by the governing body, and adopted as part of the
church covenant or governing documents.
The church is the Body of Christ. Since fallen humans are involved the vagaries of sinful human behavior often corrupt the internal relationships shared by redeemed people.
Paul advised speaking with grace. To the Colossians he wrote---
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know
how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6, ESV
Harmful language cannot be ignored or overlooked. It's some of the junk spiritual leaders better handle.