Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter. Ecclesiastes 10:20
Have you ever wondered how people find out things? Statements we made and actions we took which we thought would never be known suddenly become public knowledge; what we thought was a secret is published abroad.
We have an expression for that mysterious process that we sometimes use: “a little bird told me.” I was reading through Ecclesiastes and noted the verse above, and it reminded me of that little idiom. It turns out that it is most likely the origin of the expression.
In reality, most people talk too much about too many things. Often, there is a correlation between our conversations and our knowledge. We tend to talk the most about those subjects that we know the least.
Beyond that, perhaps our favorite topic to discuss is the self. Sometimes the conversation will wander to someone else, but too often only for the fleeting moment it takes to cut him or her down to size, thinking it will build up our own ego. If we knew that what we say would be told to those we talk about, most of us would likely say a lot less.
I doubt if any of us have said many things about someone else that they ultimately do not know we said. Just because a person does not retaliate, does not attack us for our mean disposition and acid tongue, does not mean they are unaware. A little group is seen huddled together talking in a very low voice. Someone approaches and they scatter like birds before the hunter, vowing that the things that were said must be kept secret. Be assured that they won’t. There is a leak somewhere. In fact, some people’s idea of keeping a secret is making sure you only tell it to one person at a time. You will often find the leak at the very place you did not expect. You will be shocked at first, but it will be a valuable lesson to you. Then you will appreciate the verse cited at the beginning of this article.
Why do people often make unkind statements about others? We could psychoanalyze it, we could look at a number of motivations. But for Christians, it fundamentally comes down to a lack of respect for Jesus. Do you remember the picture of the judgement in Matthew 25? Jesus separates the sheep from the goats based on the way that they treated or mistreated the vulnerable, poor, and oppressed in life. And he makes the principle underlying that distinction clear: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Mt 25:40). I suggest that the principle applies more widely than just our actions toward the needy: do you think you can say hard and harsh things about the followers of Christ, about the church, about your brothers and sisters in Christ without including Jesus in the very statement made?
These actions help no one. They do not help ourselves or the church. On the contrary, we do great harm to ourselves, to the church, to the person talked about, and to the Lord. I think about what James writes in his letter:
If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:3-6)
Nothing does more harm than a tongue out of control.
Yes, the birds talk. What we say about others will get to them. Most people who have had cruel, snide things said about them find out what was said and why—and the name and address of the person who said it for good measure. Very embarrassing indeed. What a price to pay! Is it worth it?