Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow. - Proverbs 25:18
Events during the American War of Independence had convinced the Federalists that bigger government was necessary for the security and well-being of the fledgling nation. Their opponents in the debate over the Constitution thought otherwise, and pressed for recognition of the rights of individuals. A compromise was reached when the opponents were assured that, if they helped pass the Constitution, one of the first acts of the government would be to pass a Bill of Rights. This was done, and the right to religious freedom, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of speech was written into the Constitution. The freedom to express an opinion, to share a conviction, and to communicate an idea should be cherished!
However, these freedoms are not freedoms to be abused. Proverbs is full of helpful teaching on the subject. For example, “Timely advice is as lovely as golden apples in a silver basket” (Prov. 25:11). The right word spoken in the right way at the right time is a gift to be treasured. A word that points the way forward in the moment of despair, a truth that corrects a misapprehension, an explanation that dispels the fog of confusion, and a reminder that buoys the flagging spirit and replenishes the drained soul—all these are “lovely as golden apples.”
Or, “Valid criticism is as treasured by the one who heeds it as jewelry made from finest gold” (25:12). Criticism that is invalid is destructive and demeaning, but the right kind is to be embraced and acted upon. Left alone in an uncorrected error, a man will drift into further mistakes. Unexamined actions may contain elements that negate their worth. Bad habits unconsciously formed inexorably imprison the unaware. But valid criticism, properly heeded, is a boon and a blessing in such circumstances.
On the other hand, “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (25:18). While both speaking in error and telling a lie communicate something that is not true, the difference is that the former is unintentional, while the latter is intentional. A lie is designed to mislead, to demean, or to unfairly put another at a disadvantage. An error in speech is nothing more than a mistake. It is in the intent behind the untruth that the damaging impact of the lie is to be found. So words can contain “timely advice,” “valid criticism,” or downright “lies.” They can encourage or deflate, build up or destroy.
It is good to cherish your freedom of speech. It is even better to be careful what you say.
For Further Study: Proverbs 25:11-28