“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil . . . . It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6
One morning when I was pulling out of our driveway on my way to work, I noticed that someone had thrown a beer can on our lawn. I picked it up, tossed it into our garbage can and drove away without giving it much thought.
A little further down the road, the thought hit me: What will the garbage man think when he sees a beer can tumble out of the minister’s trash can? I suppose, if my trash can could have talked, it would have set the garbage man straight. But unfortunately, trash cans don’t say much these days. So, my reputation was left to whatever the sanitation engineer would conclude. And while beer cans in your trash may not be the worst thing that could happen, I wondered what would have been the conclusion if a neighbor boy had dumped his porn magazines into our garbage?
We have all jumped to a conclusion about somebody without knowing all the facts, only to hear the rest of the story and then feel terrible about what we have said about that person to others. To make matters worse, there is no way that we can retrace all our false information to rescue the victim’s reputation. No wonder James warns, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil.”
When we draw conclusions quickly—without careful consideration of the consequences and risks, we stoop to the level of tabloid reporting. We carelessly trash valued reputations and do irreparable damage. This lethal habit of our tongues is called the sin of beguilement—the sin of drawing wrong conclusions and then passing them on.
Avoiding this kind of “trash talk” means that we refuse to make any firm conclusions until the facts are in. When in doubt, go to the person for clarification. If your conclusions are true, you can help them repent and lead them lovingly to recovery. If they are not true, you can stick up for them if others are spreading beguilement about them. And, when someone comes to you with some “trash talk” about another person, be quick to ask, “Do you know that for sure?” Tell them that you really don’t want to know about the situation until you both can be certain about the facts. Encourage them to go directly to the person before they say anything else to others.
Reputations are too important to throw in the trash. I’m a raving fan of protecting people in love rather than getting some sort of sick joy out of speaking poorly about others. After all, Scripture tells us that “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)!