[Jesus said] “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:4-5
All too often, the words we use harm others. Humans find it simple to engage in gossip and give credence to rumors, but it isn’t as simple to undo the harm that results from such practice. The sad truth is that our words hurt others, and try as we might we cannot take them back once they are said. In this sense, the old saying about sticks and stones can’t be farther from the truth; words do in fact hurt others.
God said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Yet we continue to offend, wrongly accuse, or simply pass along rumors. We point out the sins of others, judge them according to our standard and build ourselves up by tearing others down. All too often, we do all of these with mere words. Yet, according to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, the eighth commandment means that “we are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way.” But how are we to do this when we feel that we ourselves have been offended?
Well, first of all, we need to pay attention to the first seven words of the explanation; “We are to fear and love God.” Fearing and loving God is central to living out our covenantal relationship with God and also with our neighbor. The Father understands our sinfulness. In his mercy he sent us Jesus through whom God grants forgiveness and grace. Living as forgiven people, God calls us to follow the example of Christ, loving one another just as God loves us.
We are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory. We all have used words to harm others whether we realize it or not. Yet, in God’s giving of the eighth commandment, we are invited to live in community with our neighbors. As people of God we are to strive to build up our neighbor and speak well of them. In light of our covenant with God, let us all live the life that God is calling us to live. Pray for those whose reputation or image is harmed by the words of others. Pray for those who seek reconciliation, and pray that we ourselves might be strengthened to resist the temptations of harming others with our words.
Holy God, give us the power to resist temptation, to forgive as we are forgiven and to love as we are loved; in Jesus’ name, Amen.