John Wesley’s famous sermon “The Cure of Evil-Speaking” describes evil-speaking as anything we say that is not edifying about another person when that person is not present. Let that soak in. How many times a week do we violate that standard?

The spirit behind Wesley’s sermon on evil-speaking comes straight from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he writes:

(Ephesians 4:29) Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Wesley and Paul agree. No unwholesome talk. None. Nada. Zero. Never. But first you have to recognize it.

Obvious examples:

•Back-biting: “He is such bragger. He’s always talking about himself.”

•Gossip: “I heard she didn’t know the first thing about…”

•Rumor: “This isn’t gossip. I know for a fact the Nelson’s are looking to go to another church.”

Subtle examples:

•Assuming motives: “I think he must be needing attention.”

•Impugning motives: “The only reason she shows up is to make herself feel like she’s actually involved.”

•Prayer-requests: “Let’s pray for Jim and his problem with back-biting.”

Ultimately, evil-speaking flows from a heart that lacks love and instead is filled with a competitive and/or vindictive spirit. The cure of evil-speaking requires zipped lips. But even that’s not good enough. Our goal should be more than not to speak disparaging words behind someone’s back. It should be to not think those thoughts in the first place. Even as you confess any tendency you or your church might have toward evil-speaking, pray this deeper prayer of confession about “evil-thinking.”

Lord, forgive me for lacking enough mercy and grace to give people the benefit of the doubt like I want others to give me. Forgive me for taking pleasure in thinking about the shortcomings of others, so that I can feel better about myself. Forgive me for failing to look for the best in others, for failing to cheer them on in my heart, like I hope others are cheering me on. Change my heart so that my words come out clean and loving. Amen