In the 1989 film, Steel Magnolias, Clairee, the wealthiest woman in town, has a gossip problem. At one point she invites a friend into the conversation by saying, “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, come sit by me.”
We are taught as children to speak kindly of others. By adulthood, however, we’ve learned the skill of rationalization. We determine that some people just deserve to be talked about. Some people have earned a good tongue-lashing.
The problem lies in the fact that we separate out some people from all of the people, as though there are two separate classes of individuals on the planet – those who are acceptable to our tastes and those who are not. We make these distinctions on the basis of ethnicity, political values, cultural differences, and outward behaviors.
James calls us to account…
With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on.
– James 3:9-10 Message
James points us to a vital truth about people… all people are made in the image of God. All people reflect his likeness. Every person you will meet today bears his image and shows something of his power and glory. Every single person on the planet is a walking, talking portrait of God. We’re all made in his likeness.
So guess how many people you’re allowed to curse? Yep. None! Not one.
James goes on to deliver another mouth-stopping truth… what you say about them says a whole lot about you.
No spring of water pours out sweet water and bitter water from the same opening. A fig tree, my friends, cannot bear olives; a grapevine cannot bear figs, nor can a salty spring produce sweet water.
– James 3:11-12 TEV
In other words, what’s in the well comes out in the water.
When you speak harshly of others, unfairly criticize, use slurs or degrading words, or spread gossip, you’re merely giving evidence that the well (your heart) is full of tainted water.
Everyone you could possibly talk about is a portrait, uniquely bearing the very image of God. So be nice. If you can’t say something nice about someone, repent and ask God to give you a renewed heart.