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In the privacy of his own bedroom, the king of Syria, in II Kings 6, devised an attack on God’s people. Where could be a more secretive spot to plot? Finally, when his invasion was ready to carry out, how shocked he was to discover that his plans had been divinely delivered to the king of Israel. This happened not once or twice but time and again to the angry, frustrated Syrian king.

Even today, in the privacy of our own homes some of our words are intercepted too. It grieves us to confess that we do not always love each other as we ought, which we show by attacking with our words. I have known, and surely you too, some lovely Christians who rarely have a bad word to say about their fellow saints. This is a gift from God and a gift for which we should pray. Sadly, we are sinful and forget to pray.

Thus, we learn the hard way when our words escape through our windows, doors, Internet connection, and telephone lines. Out it goes into the great outdoors. Perhaps there is only a bird or two nearby. Should we be concerned? Did not Grandma warn that all it takes is one? With a flap of a wing, the words are snatched and dispatched to parts unknown through the vast, measureless air.

Oh, if only we could catch that bird and bring it back! We cringe as our children blithely wave to the birdie out the window. Secret words bring open shame. With a mere piccolo trill, a chickadee-dee-dee, and a cheery chirp our lives are nearly ruined.

Scripture tells us to take heed: “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter” (Eccl. 10:20). Under God’s providence, our words will travel at times by unknown, unsuspecting means. It is as if a bird perches upon our window sill, promptly flying elsewhere to declare it.

Birds or no birds, we need to stop! We and our children are not a good witness when we speak disrespectfully about people, bear false witness, or falsify anyone’s words. Further, the verse tells us not to curse the king. We may not know any kings, but we must honor those who hold an office of authority, specifically our rulers. Most especially, we can apply this truth to the honor due our church officebearers as well as to all believers who are anointed in Christ. How we speak to and about our brothers and sisters in Christ is the focus of this article.

How especially horrifying it is when we turn our thoughts and words against one another! The book of James says that we might tame wild birds and other animals, but not the tongue. This untamable tongue can be a problem in the church. “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:9, 10). Is God pleased with our praises of Him while we curse His people? We know He is not. Rather, God’s word tells us to “bless, and curse not” (Rom. 12:14). Now, that is what our tongue should be busy doing—blessing and not cursing! This is glorifying to God and builds up His people.

Some might object, “But there is nothing good to say about some people at church.” You can reckon they will not be blessing them. In the past, some have gone so far as to use the imprecations in Scripture to justify private vindictiveness. John Calvin refers to this grievous abuse of God’s Word among the Roman Catholics of his day. Roman clergy were hired to use Psalm 109, for example, as a chant for cursing personal enemies. Calvin notes that he knew a woman who hired these wicked men to curse even her own son (cf. Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 109:6).

Cursing in all its forms sows discord among the brethren. It goes beyond vulgar words, with taking of God’s name in vain being by far the worst. What about cursing our brethren? Certainly, we would never call on God to send them to destruction. However, with unchecked anger, resentment, or jealousy there are times when God’s people come close to that. So much so, we might find ourselves entertaining thoughts of revenge, hoping to get back by dishonoring their name. This insecure, mean-spiritedness includes any hurtful, overly critical, belittling, even slanderous thing we can blurt out. It leads to attributing only evil motives to their character. We eagerly listen to any negative, unproven gossip about them. By implication, we declare them outside of our communion. We do not pray for God’s blessings upon them—not sincerely, at least. If we do pray, it will tend to be a series of exhortations we think they need to hear. We sit in the judgment seat of our smug condemnation, desiring that the person receives what we think they deserve.

God’s Word says “bless, and curse not,” and there are great consequences if we do not obey. How disturbing for a child to realize that the Christian adult or parent he or she looks up to is two-faced. In the child’s eyes, the one like Jesus has taken off a mask to reveal a liar. With a few disrespectful, critical words from the adult, the child’s concept of love and respect is undermined.

For those on the receiving end of someone’s anger, the good news is that the curses do not work. The curses fly away, as the birds illustrate: “As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come” (Prov. 26:2). Far away, passing overhead is the vain curse. Balaam could not curse God’s people and, thankfully, we cannot either. This does not mean that angry words will not hurt feelings. Sadly, they very much do. Even so, a person who is blessed by God is forever blessed. Those who delight to do the will of our heavenly Father have the assurance and joy of God’s favor upon them.

For us who dispense the unkind words, however, the news is rather grievous. Just as migrating birds return to where they left, so do our curses. As sure as eggs is eggs, all of our anger comes right back upon us. We reap what we sow, and those who curse God’s people will be cursed. God will not allow us sinfully to condemn our brethren. We believers cannot be everlastingly cut off, but we will      certainly receive chastisement from the Lord. The experience of God’s displeasure and the repercussions from the offended person(s) may seem severe at times.

Maybe our words will not reach the ears of those with whom we are angry. Even a starling can sing some notes too high for humans to hear. But our heavenly Father hears and chastens us. Unrepentant anger will fester, robbing us of our joy and peace in Christ. Additionally, we may spiral downward into deep melancholy, clinging to our miserable grudges. Further, while we are not walking by faith, we become easy prey for other sins as well. Yes, our once happy life seems nearly ruined.

We cannot emphasize enough to our children the importance of our speech. Our speech makes known where we are from. I knew a Danish immigrant who owned a pet parrot. She invited me over to see her beautiful yellow-naped amazon. Opening the latch of his cage, she took him out and set him on a perch on her table. She told the bird it was bath time and picked up a spray water bottle. She began misting his green and yellow plumage, lifting one wing at a time. Ruffling his feathers and bobbing his head, he said in a high-pitched register, “Ooh, Tat is sho nice!” That was a Scandinavian avian if there ever was!

Where do we come from? We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Our children listen to what we say and are also good at repeating what they hear. They look to us to lead the way in using our tongues for blessing. The word “bless” in Romans 12:14 is the Greek word eulogy meaning “good word.” We are to speak good words to one another and about one another. We are to use soft, gentle answers (Prov. 15:1). Our tongue should be ruled by the law of kindness (Prov. 31:26). Regulated by love, our words are to be based on biblical principles, ministering grace to the hearer for their encouragement and edification. Here are some suggestions we and our children can discuss together:

1. Look for the good: Some songbirds sing more than 2,000 times a day. How many times do we speak blessings to others? We all have strengths and weaknesses—what is your specialty? How about using encouraging words? Instead of finding fault with others, find what is good. Try looking at their spiritual gifts. Romans 12:6-8 speak of prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving from the heart with simplicity, ruling, and showing mercy with cheerfulness. These are gifts from the Lord that we should encourage our children to employ and look for in others. These gifts are a great blessing for the saints. God did not save us to live unto ourselves but unto God—“…to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).

2. Forgive and forget: Whether we were hurt first is irrelevant. We are to bless even those who persecute us. If there are sins in the church, we know the proper way of church discipline. We start by going to the person and talking about it—not to others. But more often than not, we simply forgive and forget. Try to be understanding from their perspective. Perhaps, they had a bad day or spoke impulsively under pressure. We have all done that. Saying “I am sorry” goes a long way, but we do not always need to demand an apology. “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:24).

3. Put a clamp on it: Roosters cannot crow if they cannot fully extend their necks. Likewise, we make no provision for the flesh. This includes no more excuses such as, “I just had to vent.” Before we open our mouth, we need to stop and ask ourselves if this is a blessing or going down the road of cursing? In fighting our old man of sin, our thoughts need to be redirected with thanksgiving for our great salvation and the return of our Lord. “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thess. 4:18).

4. Pray: Pray to the Lord for peace among the brethren. Our need is very great, so our prayers must be persistent, even importunate, for God’s grace. The battle is fierce. Remember the devil is “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). He is behind our cursing one another. His chief desire is to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. I am ashamed for the times I have used my tongue sinfully, as you are too, I trust. God hears our prayers and is full of compassion and forgiveness.

We glance out the window. The ruby-throated hummingbird is all abuzz, the perky blue jay flies from sunflower seed to suet. Who can keep track of them—flitting, fluttering hither and thither? If we guard our tongue, we have nothing to hide. What will the little bird have to say about me or about you? May the Lord bless us as we, with love and sincerity, strive to speak blessings.