One of Aesop's fables that I have always enjoyed is the story of The Four Oxen and the Lion. As the title suggests, a lion often prowled about a field in which four oxen lived. Many times, the lion tried to attack, but when he came close the oxen would turn their tails toward each other, so when the lion would approach from any direction he was met with horns. One day the oxen began to quarrel amongst themselves, words were exchanged, and each ox went off to his separate corner of the field. In a scene reminiscent of 1 Peter 5:8, the prowling lion picked them off one by one and devoured them.
Nothing can put a wedge between people like the tongue. Slander and gossip can break apart teams, companies, and even entire ministries. Idle talk and disloyalty can cause divisions that spread like a virus; they are poisonous to any church team, from pastoral to worship to greeters and on down the line.
Gossip is unfair to everyone involved:
As a kid, I was interested in military history. The stories of ancient battles intrigued me, and one society that always stood out was Sparta in ancient Greece. The Spartans believed that the power of their army did not come from the sword but their shields, which when interlocked formed an impenetrable dome over a company of soldiers. One author noted about the Spartans, "A warrior carries helmet and breastplate for his own protection, but his shield for the safety of the whole line."
In the same way, we must commit to protecting our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must constantly encourage and build one other up, protect one another, and use our shields to deflect and extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one—including the ones that come from the mouths of fellow Christians.
I challenge you to practice Matthew 18:15: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother" (ESV). Instead of putting someone else's faults or sins on the "prayer list," or whispering about how someone else has stumbled to someone who cannot help the situation, go directly to that person and liberate them with high support and high challenge, like Jesus Christ did time and time again.
Jesus made it clear that God puts a high priority on resolving conflict with other people before coming to Him in worship. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).
Words have the power of life and death: the tongue is a small member of the body but debatably no other member of the body has caused so much damage in this world (see James 3). It has caused divorce and wars, and has abused and destroyed entire lives. As the children's song says, "O be careful, little mouth, what you say. O be careful, little mouth, what you say. There's a Father up above, and He's looking down in love, so be careful, little mouth, what you say."
1 Thessalonians 5:11-18