Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues (Proverbs 10:18-19 (NIV).
One of the most important rules the judge drilled into us as jurors is that you can’t talk about what you hear in court, nor can you form any opinions about what you hear until you are sent to deliberate; neither are you allowed to do any research outside the court, or gather any information from papers, news, or the internet. The only place information about the case was the court room and primarily from the testimony of the witnesses for both sides. Every day when court convened we were asked if we had been able to follow this rule, and at the end of every day we were all reminded we needed to continue to follow that rule.
There were 2 reasons for this. The first was that we needed to remain impartial until all the facts and testimony of the case had been given. Until we had heard everything, we needed to keep from forming any opinions. And the second reason was that our decision needed to be made only on the sworn testimony heard in court and not on any rumors, reports, or digging that we might come across or do ourselves that would make us biased toward what we heard in court.
We could take a lesson from that in our relationships couldn’t we? We should make it our practice to keep our mouth shut about the bad things we hear, lest we come to the wrong conclusion and then lead other people to the wrong conclusion because we didn’t wait till we had all the facts, or because we got our “facts” from the wrong or unverifiable sources.
It is so easy for us to jump to conclusions, to rationalize our own prejudices, and to pass judgment on people and what they do! This is one of the reasons James says it is so important that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19, NIV). It is one of the reasons we are told in Scripture again and again not to listen or take part in rumors, gossip, or slander (i.e., Leviticus 19:16, 2 Corinthians 12:20, and Titus 3:2), and that people were not to be judged without multiple reliable witnesses (Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 19:15, and Matthew 18:15-17).
What I have been learning is that while we all want to be treated fairly and impartially, our nature easily gravitates towards unfairness and bias. In fact, I suspect that is one of the big reasons that the judge reminded us every day to be fair and impartial and tested us daily to her satisfaction that there was no reason to think any or all of us were impartial. If we want to give people the same love that Jesus gives us, then we are going to be on our guard so that we do not listen to or take part in gossip or slander. And if we are going to “speak the truth in love” we need to make sure that we are dealing with facts, not rumors, and that we have taken the time to listen to the person we aim to confront, lest we miss some of the facts we need. And in addition to that, we need to make sure that our motive is to help that person up, to encourage them, and to build them up. If we are not acting on that motivation, we need to be suspicious of ourselves. As James says in James 4:11-12 (NIV),
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?