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“Speak evil of no man.” (Titus 3:2) “Let none of you suffer as a busy-body in other men’s matters.” (1 Pet. 3:16) “Speaking the truth in love.”—Eph. 4:15
ALL Christians who have made advancement in the development of the graces and fruits of the Lord’s Spirit accept as true the texts of Scripture cited. They cheerfully admit the correctness of the points these texts set forth, and agree that it is their duty and the duty of all Christian people to very carefully, very rigidly follow these divine instructions. But, strange to say, it appears that in the majority of minds the reasoning faculties become more or less entangled so that very wrong constructions are put upon the words of heavenly wisdom. The result is that many of the Lord’s dear people find the Episcopal confession fitting to them. “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done.” One peculiar feature connected with the matter is that some of the Lord’s dear people, sincerely desirous of doing his will and naught else, after making blunders and getting into a great mess of trouble, fail to discern wherein they erred; hence with them the experience has brought no lesson, and instead of being helps and bright-shining lights they are stumbling-blocks to a considerable degree and thus offset largely the good they desire to do, or perhaps really do accomplish. It will be clearly understood, then, that the object of this dissertation is not to hurt, wound, offend, but to assist the members of the Body of Christ to accomplish more fully the essence of their covenant with the Lord and the desire of their hearts.
“WHAT IS EVIL SPEAKING?”
We answer: That to speak anything that is derogatory respecting another, to tell things uncomplimentary of them, is evil speaking. Some have the impression that evil speaking is lying and consider that speaking the truth is always in order. This is a misconception. The speaking of anything that is prejudicial to the character of another, whether it be truth or falsehood, is evil speaking in the proper acceptance of that term. The Lord’s Spirit, as well as his Word, forbids evil speaking because the Lord’s Spirit is the spirit of love and kindness, and evil speaking, true or false, is repudiated by love, is contrary to love, is born of some evil motive, either busy-bodying and gossiping, or, worse still, malice, envy or strife, and all of these the Apostle designates in his list of “the works of the Devil.”
It is said that there are “exceptions to every rule,” and so there are to this one. For instance, if you were a witness to a murder, a theft, or any other heinous crime, it would be a duty to society to speak of the evil, to report it to the proper authorities, the mayor, chief of police, or whoever. This would be evil speaking, it is true, but this is an exceptional case and requires exceptional treatment. It does not, therefore, imply any wrong motive on your part in respect to the wrong-doer—anger, hatred, malice or strife, but is called for by the interests of society and your appreciation of the spirit of love to them. Indeed, in some States the law holds a silent witness as jointly responsible with the principal offender. In the Church also there is an exception noted in the Scriptures, namely, that if the trespass be of sufficient importance and likely to break our fellowship with the offender we may go to him and discuss the matter with him alone—not with a view of judging him, condemning him, etc., but with the object of helping the brother out of some view of matters or course of conduct that seems to us to be wrong, sinful,
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contrary to the Word of God. Before going to him or her, we are to make self-examination to see that we are not in a fault-finding mood, and that the matter is one that really concerns us, either in our personal relationship to the brother or in our mutual relationship to the members of the Church of Christ, whose interest we believe might be injured by the brother’s course. We should go kindly and with the hope in our hearts that the matter which seemed strange and in violation of God’s Word might prove upon explanation to be nothing of the kind.
We are to go hoping that in any event the Lord will bless our mission, not to the injury of the brother or sister, but to his or her comfort, succor, deliverance from what we believe to be a wrong course. It is only after we have taken this step and the wrong course is persisted in, either to our injury or to the injury of the Church—only then are we permitted to speak to another of the thing which we consider to be an evil. Even then the speaking must be done in the presence of the accused, that he may have the fullest opportunity to present his view of the matter, as set forth in the Scriptures in Matt. 18:15-17 and explained in detail in DAWN-STUDIES, Vol. VI. If it were not so pitiable and so grievous an error it would be amusing to note how some conscientious brethren and sisters dodge this matter of evil speaking and seemingly its point entirely. For instance, one of these may say to another, “I have just heard something about Sister C which shocked me fearfully. I do not know what to think about it. I should like to have your advice, but of course I could not tell you what the matter is, for that would be evil speaking, which, as the Lord’s follower, I would not be privileged to speak and you would not be privileged to hear.” Poor, silly sheep! Such seem not to discern that they are at the time engaged in the very worst kind of evil speaking. In nine cases out of ten, if they would tell all that they know, the impression upon their auditor would not be one-tenth as bad as the one given. This serious error, which is doing so much harm in the whole world and amongst the Lord’s people, is an evidence of two things: (1) A lack of reasoning power, (2) a lack of the spirit of love.
We are trying in this article to correct the first defect and to help some to reason more correctly; but it is not ours to help them over the second defect, their lack of love, which really lies at the foundation of the wrong. If they had loved the sister of whom they had heard the evil report, they would never have breathed a word of it to another soul, but would have gone directly to the condemned one in love and with a hope that the report was false, and would have told her, as a friend and as the spirit of love would prompt, all that they had heard or seen or misunderstood, and would have assured her that they hoped there was some explanation of it; but in no event should any hint of the matter escape them.
“SUFFERING AS A BUSY-BODY”
There are generally two sides to a matter. In nearly every instance in which one person violates the command, “Speak evil of no man,” assistance is rendered by the one to whom the evil is told. He or she “draws the matter out” by questions or hints or suggestions or looks of interest or encouraging comments, etc. Undoubtedly such a hearer of evil is in the Lord’s sight equally guilty with the speaker of the evil. The difficulty with both is that they lack the spirit of love, which the Apostle refers to, saying, “Charity thinketh no evil,” but “covereth a multitude of faults.” The first intimation that something scandalous or unkind is about to be said respecting another should lead us to shrink back and feel the fear and realize that the Adversary is near to assist in any evil work. The wise course, as already seen, would be to say promptly, “My dear Sister or Brother, excuse me, but are not you and I both the Lord’s children, and can we not please God better and advance our own spiritual welfare more by giving heed to his Word and developing in our own hearts and minds the spirit of love, instead of back-biting and devouring one another? Let us think of each other’s
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good traits, good qualities, as the Apostle would have us do.” If such a proper course lose you the friendship of anyone it will be to your advantage, for if he or she were right-minded such kindly treatment would be helpful, and you would be at once advised that they fully agree with you and are also striving in the same direction.
How often have we heard people say, “Yes, indeed, I wish that I had never heard it! It has caused me a deal of trouble and suffering.” These are the people mentioned by the Apostle—who are suffering as busy-bodies in other men’s matters, contrary to the divine direction and the spirit of love. They are getting their deserts, and the chances are that they will do spiritual injury to themselves and also do spiritual injury to others through their busy-bodying. Few of us have time enough to attend to all of the affairs of the world and still give proper attention to our own. “Sweep before your own door” has become a proverb, the intimation being that those who pay great attention to their neighbors’ affairs are neglecting home duties and responsibilities and that they are likely to get themselves into trouble in so doing. The Christian of advanced experience emphasizes the fact that he has quite a sufficiency of knowledge of evil in himself and his environment without making special search for the weaknesses and blemishes of others or for their liberties, which perhaps to him seem to be sin; as in the Apostle’s case when he speaks of some who “Crept in to spy out our liberties.” We may be sure that all to whom the Apostle referred were in a dangerous position by reason of their busy-bodying, and we may be equally sure that the same principle will always hold good. However good our intentions, none will be crowned for striving unlawfully.—2 Tim. 2:5.
There are some so constituted that it is second nature for them to attempt to regulate everybody else according to their own ideals and standards, forgetful of the fact stated by the Apostle, “To his own Master every servant stands or falls.” Our limitations respecting what we may and may not do by way of interference in the affairs of others are very many. To some in olden times it was a terrible sin to eat meat such as was generally sold in public because it was previously offered to an idol. The Apostle took a larger, broader, truer view of the subject when he declared that the idol was nothing anyway, recognizing the fact that the offering of the meat to the idol could do the meat no harm. There were some, however, ready to spy in such matters and to busy-body themselves with other men’s affairs, and some of these were perhaps stumbled by reason of their busy-bodying tendencies. The fact that the Apostle was very willing to yield to these weaker brethren and say that he would abstain from meat entirely does not prove that he was wrong and they right. It merely proves that he was large-hearted
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enough to forego his own liberties—which were in no wise condemned in the Scriptures—for their sakes because of their weaknesses, their lack of logic, and their weakness along the lines of busy-bodying. Our Lord addressed busy-bodies when he suggested that they were like the man who went to his neighbor and desired to help him to get a mote out of his eye, without being aware of the fact that he had a whole beam in his own eye. Jesus said to such, “First pluck out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pluck out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”—Luke 6:42.
A TRUTH-TELLING OBLIGATION
We have already pointed out that it is not permissible even to tell the truth where it would be slanderous or injurious or calculated to bring dishonor to our neighbor; that to tell the truth under such circumstances would be evil speaking from the Scriptural standpoint and forbidden, not only by the Word of the Lord, but by the spirit of love for the brethren, and that it would be wrong even to listen to such a statement, and that rather the one attempting such evil-speaking should be in love rebuked and helped to overcome the weakness. But there is a truth-telling which is in harmony with love. If a scandal-monger and back-biter and slanderer and evil-speaker has disclosed some matter to us, it is our duty not to repeat the matter and not even hint of it to others, but it is our duty to tell the matter and all that we know about it to the one who has been slandered, vilified, spoken against. Why is it our duty to do this? We answer, that the same spirit of love which would prompt us not to speak derogatively of another to others should prompt us to tell the aggrieved one the facts: (1) It will put him on his guard and assist him in overtaking the falsehood or misrepresentation, and all lovers of the truth and righteousness should be glad to assist in such a manner. (2) It would be very helpful, doubtless, to the slanderers, evil-speakers; a practical lesson would thus be brought home to them, and they might learn before it was too late for learning, that they are still cultivating the works of the flesh and the devil, which must be eradicated from their hearts before they would be ready for the glorious change of the First Resurrection and a share with Christ in glory, honor and immortality. (3) This course would be profitable to ourselves because it would assist in developing in each true courage on the side of right, on the side of truth, the Lord’s side, and against the side of the devil, the side of slander and evil speaking.
Strange to say, something in our crooked heads or something of the Adversary’s deception at times leads some of the Lord’s true people into a very wrong course in respect to this matter. For instance, a case came under our observation recently which illustrates this: Mr. A communicated “lovingly” some slanderous information to Mrs. B respecting Mrs. C. Mrs. B “lovingly” heard the awful news and then communicated with Mrs. D, saying that she had heard some awful things about Mrs. C and was greatly distressed thereby. Mrs. D, intimately acquainted with Mrs. C, assured Mrs. B that there was certainly no foundation for any evil speaking. Mrs. B said that she would like to tell Mrs. D the whole of it, but dared not do so, as it would be evil speaking. Mrs. D urged that in any event Mrs. B should go to Mrs. C and tell her the evil things that had been spoken about her and give her the name of her traducer, so that she might go to him in harmony with Matt. 18:15-17; but dear Mrs. B was horrified at the suggestion and declared that not for her life would she be so untrue to Mr. A, and thus “speak evil” of him.
Now notice the mistakes made all through these transactions: (1) Mr. A began the matter as a back-biter, speaking evil of Mrs. C. (2) Mrs. B, in listening to that and not rebuking it promptly and before allowing it to proceed, was a partaker in the guilt. (3) Mrs. B became a slanderer and evil-speaker and back-biter on her own account when she communicated the slander in vague terms to Mrs. D. It matters not that she did not go into details. She gave the bad impression, possibly a much worse impression than if she had told all that had been told to her. (4) Mrs. D was possibly at fault also in listening at all to the slanders, but she took the right course in attempting the defence of one who had not been heard, and in urging that the whole matter be taken at once to Mrs. C that she might know of the evil that was being done her in the robbery of her good name by Mr. A. (5) Mrs. B’s suggestion that she would be “evil speaking” in taking this open, aboveboard course shows that she labored under serious misapprehension of the points of equity. She was partaker with the thief in his robbery of a reputation. (Psa. 50:18.) The reputation of another had been stolen and she was helping to secrete the thief. Yet, as we say, the delusions of our twisted minds and the cunning of the Adversary get some of the Lord’s people into these difficulties so that they take unwittingly the side of the Adversary, who puts light for darkness and darkness for light. Mrs. B “would not for the world” expose Mr. A, believing that in so doing she would be “evil speaking.” What sophistry! The very opposite of the truth! That was the one and only time she should have told the matter, apologizing at the same time for her own share in the sin. The person against whom the evil was spoken is the one and the only one to whom it should have been mentioned at all, and as for Mr. A, if it turned out to be discreditable to him and he lost some of his prestige thereby, it might mean the greatest blessing that had ever come to him and might recover him from the snare of the Adversary, which, if not recovered from, would most assuredly hinder his entrance into the Kingdom.
ANOTHER PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION
Here is another instance which came under our observation and which illustrates the awful danger of this pernicious principle of “evil speaking,” slandering, back-biting and the subtle forms it may take and the great danger to be accomplished.
Mrs. V took offense at Mr. W. (It matters not for this illustration whether there was ground for the offense or not.) Being very conscientious she felt that she could not tell the circumstance to her friends; and indeed probably another consideration weighed in this matter. She felt that to tell the truth would not serve her purposes, as many would doubtless consider that the wrong and blame belonged to herself. Under the Adversary’s guidance, of which doubtless she was unconscious, she began to slander Mr. W in a pantomime way—by looking hurt, acting offended and disconsolate. As she foreknew, this led her friends to question her: What is your trouble? Indirectly and with apparent unwillingness she intimated that Mr. W was the source of her grief, but that it was too deep for her to mention and that she was too noble to speak evil even with a cause. Promptly her friends, X, Y and Z, took
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the bait, rallied to her support and, true to human nature, struggled to see which could be the chief busy-body. Incidentally we point out that they should have remembered the Scriptures cited at the head of this article and should have given Mrs. V the Scriptural advice, Go to Mr. W and deal with him along the lines of Matt. 18:15-17. They should not have picked, meddled, busy-bodied, and, in violating this divine rule, they suffered the consequences. These well-meaning busy-bodies, X, Y and Z, began the system of “investigation,” declaring to their own hearts and each other that it was the love of God alone which was prompting them to help a poor Sister. We will not question the honesty of their claim, but content ourselves with pointing out that their love was not properly exercised along Scriptural lines. They began with Mrs. V—Did Mr. W do thus or so? Mrs. V’s conscience would not allow her to say, “Yes,” because their surmise had quite overshot the mark of any grievance she could have claimed. But she was in the humor to crave sympathy and to forward her designs of bringing contumely upon Mr. W, hence she merely sighed and looked sad and refused to answer Yes or No. The busy-bodies, X, Y and Z, held a consultation and concluded that the reason she did not answer their question was that her trouble was far worse than anything of which they had dreamed. Again they approached Mrs. V with sympathy and condolences, telling her that they knew now that it was worse than she had first suggested and that they had concluded that it must be something even worse than they could even imagine or suggest.
Mrs. V was somewhat shocked that her method of slander by insinuation and silence had succeeded so far beyond her original intention. But she felt that she could not go back on the matter now and tell the sympathizers, X, Y and Z, the plain, simple truth, because then they would forever lose confidence in her and discern that by her methods she deceived them. Thus from step to step Mrs. V became involved and her conscience injured until finally she felt that her only course to preserve her standing with her friends, X, Y and Z, was to take the position that their worst insinuations respecting Mr. W were well founded. Her conscience squirmed for a time, but love of sympathy and of the esteem of others and the fear that the truth would cause the loss of these, bound her hand and foot to the falsehood which she had acted and slander which she had suggested by action, insinuation and silence. The result was that for a time all four of those ladies were in great danger of losing the Truth and going into outer darkness—yea, into the Second Death.
I am glad that we do not have to record such an outcome, but the dangers were certainly sufficiently thrilling for all concerned. How promptly all of that evil condition could have been nipped in the bud. When Mrs. V was overtaken in the fault and began to slander Mr. W by intimation, her friends, X, Y and Z, should have remembered the Apostle’s words; Ye that are spiritual restore such an one in a spirit of meekness, remembering yourselves also, lest ye should be tempted. (Gal. 6:1.) If Mrs. V had refused to be restored and continued her process of vilification by conduct, these friends, acting along the lines of the Golden Rule, should have gone to Mr. W and told him of the matter, Mrs. V’s conduct, insinuations, etc. What a great help this proper Golden-Rule course would have been to Mrs. V, Mr. W and the three friends! How it would have saved them from the Adversary’s snare, which for a time enwrapped them and caused them a spiritual blight.
DON’T TELL OR YOU ARE A TELL-TALE
Mark those persons who request you to keep secrets from those to whom they properly belong. We do not mean by this that there are no proper secrets in business, in the family, etc., but we do mean that if anyone has a tale to tell us derogatory to another, and first attempts to bind our reason and judgment with a vow of secrecy, it is time for us to be on guard against that person, and to tell him or her in no uncertain terms that we believe that such an attempt to bind our conscience or judgment in advance is belittling to us and ignoble to him. Let us tell such in kindly terms that their ways are ways of darkness, whether they are aware of the fact or not; and that we decline to be a companion in the dark ways which their language intimates, and that we advise them to come out of the dark into more honest methods and practices. Let us tell them this in such a manner as will wound them as little as possible, but in such a manner as will settle it for all time as between them and us and that we do not wish to have their dark secrets—we do not wish to be sharers in their slanders and back-biting and “evil speaking” and thieving of reputation.
Fear of being called a tell-tale has been the Adversary’s method for secreting wrongs these many years, and not infrequently it is used as a lash to hinder “overcomers” from doing their duty. They must overcome this, and must learn that it is a sin not to tell the truth to the right person for fear of offending a slanderer, equally as wrong as to tell a slander to the wrong person.
This is a part of the overcoming, the victory which love and justice gain in our hearts. We must learn to pay no attention to the world’s false standards and sneers of “tell-tale” and to pay every attention to the divine standard, the Golden Rule. It is the duty of every clerk or employee to make known to his employer any matter of consequence seriously affecting his interests, either financial or moral, as according to the Golden Rule he would wish that employer to do to him if their situation in life were reversed. It is the duty of every one hearing slander and defamation of a friend’s reputation to give that friend the fullest information respecting the matter, just as much as under common law it would be his duty to report the matter if he were a witness to a theft of material goods. Fear of consequences must not hinder our faithfulness to this divine principle, this Golden Rule.
Let us fix it in our minds as an inviolable element of the Golden Rule by which we are bound, that if evil speakings come to our knowledge without our being in any sense a party to them or able to prevent them we will always and promptly bring the matter to the attention of the brother or sister or person whose name or reputation is traduced and will tell that person all that has been heard and the name of our informant, and everything else that will enable him or her to pursue the traducer, according to the instructions in Matt. 18:15-17. Whoever fails to see this, the proper course of a Christian, fails to appreciate, we think, the Golden Rule, which is binding upon all the disciples of Christ.
— November 15, 1908 —