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Be careful of the stones you throw

It has happened again.

Rev David Clarke
Rev David Clarke

Last week another politician found to his cost that an inappropriate ‘tweet’ brought an avalanche of unfavourable publicity.

It then transpired that a host of other embarrassing ‘tweets’ existed from a decade ago. The abject apology of the Ulster Unionist leader was rapidly followed by apologies from some Sinn Fein members who had similarly transgressed in past years.

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They won’t be the last people to be caught by careless utterances on social media. That rash words of years ago can come back to embarrass is the lesson of an old country song:

‘A tongue can accuse and carry bad news

The seeds of distrust it will sow

And unless you’ve made no mistakes in your life

Be careful of stones that you throw’.

Control of the tongue - and of the typing fingers -is one of the most difficult skills to master. Warnings about the power of words are part of our shared culture. Someone observed that since God had given us two ears but only one tongue, we ought to listen twice as much as we speak.

Likewise, we often hear the phrase ‘Least said, soonest mended’.The writer of the Book of Proverbs agreed, ‘When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise’(10;19).

Words have an amazing power to wound as Proverbs 12;18 states; ‘Reckless words pierce like a sword’. Equally they can have a healing and reassuring impact; ‘Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees (‘Job 4;4 ).

The Book of Proverbs contains much about the use of the tongue. It lists seven things which the Lord hates, and three of them are related to sins of the tongue. While ‘haughty eyes’, and’ feet that are quick to rush into evil’, are detestable to God, so too are ‘a lying tongue’, ‘a false witness who pours out lies’ and ‘a man who stirs up dissension among brothers’(6; 16-19).

The apostle James, the brother of Jesus, has a celebrated passage about the tongue in the New Testament letter than bears his name (James 3; 1-12). The tongue, he observes, is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. It is something no man can tame.

We need the help of God to control it. Indeed, one mark of God’s grace in an individual’s life is the power of self-control (Galatians 5; 23). The counsel of the apostle Paul should ever be in our minds; ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace’(Colossians 4;6) and ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come our of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up’ (Ephesians 4;9).

The great evangelist Billy Graham once remarked ‘a real Christian is one who can give his pet parrot to the town gossip’.

That is why we should use the prayer of the Psalmist; ‘Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips’ (Psalm 141;3).