“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.” – Proverbs 16:28
Threats to Friendship
“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.” This is a hard truth on many fronts. First, in what it says about those who slander and spread strife—they are perverse—a word that means foolish. Second, is that their foolishness can and does separate even “intimate friends.”
Most of us believe or hope that our friendships are impervious to slander and strife. But the nature of these tools is that they are very divisive and effective. For example if someone went to Barney and said, “Nathan doesn’t like you. He’s not your friend.” Barney would shut that down quickly. Why? There’s simply too much history to believe such a stupid idea. This would be like trying to fool someone with a three dollar bill.
But if someone goes to Barney over an extended period of time, sowing small seeds of doubt about only the bad decisions I’ve made (and there are plenty of those), or only the moments I’ve been less than my best (and there are plenty of those), then division can and even will occur. So we have to be on guard.Most of us believe or hope that our friendships are impervious to slander and strife. Click To Tweet
This is exactly what happened between David and Israel because of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15). Over the course of about 40 years Absalom separated David from some of his closest friends—the people of Israel. This is yet another reason why the Scripture tells us to avoid the fool. The fool or the perverse person sows chaos.
How does this sort of thing happen? What’s the tool for sowing discord? Let’s listen again to the words of Jesus’ brother James. James 3:4-10:
“Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
Strife begins with the tongue, and the tongue speaks from the heart, but the ‘pilot’ is always in control. This is why I’ve said so many times no one can use the excuse that they didn’t mean to say something hurtful. Of course we mean those things. Hurtful things that come out of our mouths are first rooted in our heart and second have to be given voice by the pilot—us!Strife begins with the tongue, and the tongue speaks from the heart, but the reality is that we are always in control. Click To Tweet
The person who is a slanderer intentionally steers the ship of division with every word they speak. They know that the tongue has the power to tame or to tear down but tearing down is the only agenda of the slanderer. The problem is that we don’t have to be a slanderer to slander.
James, on one hand, makes it sound inevitable that, “no one can tame the tongue.” But he goes on to say, “these things ought not to be this way.” With slander we must understand that we can and should bring our words into submission.
So the tongue is a fire that needs to be controlled. But how?
“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” – Proverbs 10:19 NASB
We start taming the tongue by speaking less.
“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” – Proverbs 18:2 NIV
We continue taming the tongue by withholding our opinion until we have all the facts. This seems challenging today and it requires longsuffering—it requires being a good friend. A practical application for this would be when the scripture says, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 5:19. Whether we know it or not our opinion matters to someone and if we are inaccurate in our opinions we will sow discord.
So the tongue is the instrument, what’s the motivation? James 3:13-18 says:
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
James is showing us that strife begins from hearts that harbor jealousy and selfish ambition. To protect our friendships from slander, we must be on the lookout for those who are filled with jealousy and selfish ambition while also examining our own hearts.
Another tell-tale sign of danger is disorder. I heard a comment this week that I wanted to share with you. It has to do with Proverbs 18:17 and this idea of slander. The proverb says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” The comment that caught my attention was this, “Be careful what you hear about somebody, you might be hearing it from the problem.”
In being on the lookout for disorder, we will be able to tell if the person we are dealing with is in fact the problem.Strife begins from hearts that harbor jealousy & selfish ambition. To protect our friendships from slander, we must look for those who are filled with jealousy & selfish ambition while also examining our own hearts. Click To Tweet
So we have bitterness, jealousy, and disorder as motivators for slander—what is the opposite? James says it’s the peaceable nature of wisdom—this is the antithesis of disorder.
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” – James 4:11-12
Being peaceable means refraining from speaking against one another. We struggle with this Church. It happens so often and especially when the person being spoken against is not present. The definition of gossip that I’ve lived by is this: Gossip is when you are talking about someone to a person who is neither part of the problem or the solution. Gossip is a political game. It gathers people to a particular side and once they pick a side it’s almost impossible to change their minds. Gossip is a form of slander and it separates even close friends.Gossip is when you are talking about someone to a person who is neither part of the problem or the solution. Click To Tweet
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” – James 5:7-9
First, complaining is a form of judgment/condemnation and we are prohibited from this but more important is the message of mercy here. We all know that we might plant a seed in someone’s life or we might water it over time. For that matter we may be tilling ground before it all begins. But God is the one who causes increase. How? According to this verse one way is the early and late rains. The farmer is patient to the end.
The reason we have a problem with slander, gossip, condemnation, etc. is because we don’t have the longsuffering to wait until the end. We’re struggling to be friends in action! Have you dealt with slander in your own life? I’d love to talk it out with you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.