The Power of Speech, Part I

[Editor’s Note: Steps to Life Ministries, just as every Christian ministry and church, occasionally struggles through a crisis. More often than not, a contributing factor, and perhaps the major component of such crises, has to do with speech. Believing this to be a spiritual problem, we have chosen to seek counsel from the Bible and from the Pen of Inspiration. God is able to heal all of our wounds and to bring us into the harmony and unity that we need to do His work, if we comply with certain conditions laid down in inspired writings. If you have been experiencing strife in your relationships, it is our prayer that you will find the counsel presented in this series beneficial.]

“Many, many times I have wished that there might be circulated a pledge containing a solemn promise to speak only those words that are pleasing to God. There is as great need for such a pledge as there is for one against the use of intoxicating liquor.” Review and Herald, May 26, 1904.


I will “guard against speaking words that discourage.” I “resolve never to engage in evil-speaking and backbiting.” I “refuse to serve Satan by implanting seeds of doubt.” I will make a “solemn promise to speak only those words that are pleasing to God.” I will, by the grace of God, “begin to discipline the tongue, remembering always that [I] can do this only by disciplining the mind.” “No evil reports will be carried” by me. “Tattling and gossip will cease.” By the grace of God, I will “abstain [from evil] speaking and evil surmising.”



“Through the help that Christ can give, we shall be able to learn to bridle the tongue. Sorely as he was tried on the point of hasty and angry speech, he never once sinned with his lips. With patient calmness he met the sneers, the taunts, and the ridicule of his fellow workers at the carpenter’s bench. Instead of retorting angrily, he would begin to sing one of David’s beautiful psalms; and his companions, before realizing what they were doing, would unite with him in the hymn. What a transformation would be wrought in this world if men and women today would follow Christ’s example in the use of words!” Review and Herald, May 26, 1904.

“Little do we realize the prevalence of evil among those who claim to be Christians.” Ibid.

“Unitedly we are to help one another gain perfection of character. To this end, we are to cease all criticism. . . . Supposing we were to cherish a remembrance of the bright chapters in our Christian experience, and dwell upon these in our testimony meetings; would not this be pleasing to God?” Ibid.

“Let us talk faith, and not unbelief; let us praise God, and go forward. The Lord is good, and greatly to be praised. At every step let us praise him from whom all blessings flow.” Ibid.

“An earnest effort should be made in every church to put away evil-speaking and a censorious spirit. Severity and fault-finding must be rebuked as the work of Satan. Mutual love and confidence must be encouraged and strengthened in the members of the church. Let all close their ears to gossip and censure. Direct the tale-bearer to the teachings of God’s word. Bid him carry his complaints directly to those whom he thinks in error. This united action would bring a flood of light into the church, and close the door to a flood of evil.” Ibid., November 30, 1886.

“Selfishness, pride, envy, malice, evil surmising, back-biting, gossiping, and tattling, have been cherished among them, until the Spirit of God has but little to do with them. The prayers of some who profess to know God are, in their present state, an abomination in the sight of the Lord. . . . While they profess to be servants of Jesus Christ, they are servants of the enemy of righteousness, and their works testify of them that they are not acquainted with God, and that their hearts are not in obedience to the will of Christ.” Pamphlet 159, 69, 70.


Backbiter is defined as: (1) one who attacks the good name of another or is an evil speaker, and (2) to go about as a slanderer or a spy. A slanderer is one who makes statements injurious to another’s reputation or well-being or makes a malicious statement or report of another.

1 No backbiters will be in heaven.

“The teacher can do much to discourage that evil habit, the curse of the community, the neighborhood, and the home—the habit of backbiting, gossip, ungenerous criticism. In this no pains should be spared. Impress upon the students the fact that this habit reveals a lack of culture and refinement and of true goodness of heart; it unfits one both for the society of the truly cultured and refined in this world and for association with the holy ones of heaven.” Education, 235.

2 Backbiters are as bad or even worse than cannibals.

“We think with horror of the cannibal who feasts on the still warm and trembling flesh of his victim; but are the results of even this practice more terrible than are the agony and ruin caused by misrepresenting motive, blackening reputation, dissecting character? Let the children, and the youth as well, learn what God says about these things.” Ibid.

3 Backbiting is a sin worthy of death.

“In Scripture, backbiters are classed with ‘haters of God,’ with ‘inventors of evil things,’ with those who are ‘without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful,’ ‘full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity.’ It is ‘the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death.’ Romans 1:30, 31, 29, 32. He whom God accounts a citizen of Zion is he that ‘speaketh the truth in his heart,’ ‘that backbiteth not with his tongue,’ ‘nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor.’ Psalm 15:2, 3.” Ibid., 235, 236.

4 We are not to cooperate with the evil speaker.

“Spirituality has been almost killed, because the spirit of backbiting has been allowed to enter. Why do we speak words of blame and censure? To be silent is the strongest rebuke that you can give to one who is speaking harsh, discourteous words to you. Keep perfectly silent. Often silence is eloquence.” Child Guidance, 551.

5 James White classed the backbiter with those having an evil spirit.

“In a vision given me at Saratoga Springs I was shown a company in Vermont with a woman among them who was a deceiver, and the church must be enlightened as to her character lest poisonous error should become deeply rooted among them. I had not seen the brethren in that part of the State with my natural eyes. We visited them, and as we entered Brother B.’s dwelling a woman came forward to receive me whom I thought to be Sister B.’s mother. I was about to salute her when the light fell upon her face and lo! it was Mrs. C., the woman I had seen in vision. I dropped her hand instantly and drew back. She noticed this and remarked upon it afterwards. The church in Vergennes and vicinity collected together for meeting. There was confusion of sentiment among them. Brother E. E. held the age to come and some were in favor of S. Allen, a notable fanatic, who held views of a dangerous character which if carried out would lead to spiritual union and breaking up of families. I delivered the message in the Sabbath meeting which the Lord had given me. Sunday noon Mrs. C. was talking quite eloquently in regard to backbiting. She was very severe, for she had heard that speeches had been made against her fanatical proceedings. Just then Sister B. entered saying, ‘Will you please walk out to dinner?’ Mrs. C. instantly replied, saying, ‘This kind goeth not out save by fasting and prayer. I do not wish any dinner.’ In a moment my husband was upon his feet. The power of God was upon him, and the color had left his face. Said he, ‘I hope it will go out! In the name of the Lord, I hope it will go out!’ and said he to Mrs. C., ‘That evil spirit is in you, and I hope it will go out! I rebuke it in the name of the Lord!’ She seemed to be struck dumb. Her glib, smart tongue was stilled for once.” Life Sketches of James White and Ellen G. White (1880), Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, Battle Creek, MI, 1880, 285, 286.

6 We are not to discourage others by engaging in evil speaking and backbiting.

“Let us guard against speaking words that discourage. Let us resolve never to engage in evil-speaking and backbiting. Let us refuse to serve Satan by implanting seeds of doubt. Let us guard against cherishing unbelief, or expressing it to others. Many, many times I have wished that there might be circulated a pledge containing a solemn promise to speak only those words that are pleasing to God. There is as great need for such a pledge as there is for one against the use of intoxicating liquor. Let us begin to discipline the tongue, remembering always that we can do this only by disciplining the mind, for ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’ Matthew 12:34.” Our High Calling, 291.

7 Backbiting drives away the Holy Spirit.

“The church in —— need sifting. A thorough conversion is necessary before they can be in working order. Selfishness, pride, envy, malice, evil surmising, backbiting, gossiping, and tattling have been cherished among them, until the Spirit of God has but little to do with them. While some who profess to know God remain in their present state, their prayers are an abomination in His sight. They do not sustain their faith by their works, and it would have been better for some never to have professed the truth than to have dishonored their profession as they have. While they profess to be servants of Christ, they are servants of the enemy of righteousness; and their works testify of them that they are not acquainted with God and that their hearts are not in obedience to the will of Christ. They make child’s play of religion; they act like pettish children.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 52.

8 We are not to listen to a speaker who is backbiting.

“When we listen to a reproach against our brother, we take up that reproach. To the question, ‘Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?’ the psalmist answered, ‘He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor.’ [Psalm 15:1–3.]” Ibid., vol. 5, 58.

9 All backbiters are disapproved of God.

“[Psalm 15:1–5.] Here the backbiter is excluded from abiding in the tabernacle of God and dwelling in the holy hill of Zion. He that taketh up a reproach against his neighbor cannot receive the approval of God.” Ibid., 615.

10 Backbiting is one of the reasons the church is feeble.

“Envy, evil surmising, backbiting, and faultfinding—let these not be named amongst Christ’s disciples. These things are the cause of the present feebleness of the church. We have a perfect pattern, even the life of Christ. It is to be our eager desire to do as He has done, to live as He lived, that others, seeing our good works, may be led to glorify God. The Lord’s blessing will rest upon us as we seek to bless others by doing the work that Christ came to this world to teach us how to do.” The Upward Look, 117.

11 Satan, if he can, will keep us backbiting one another until Jesus comes.

“My brethren, clear your souls before God. Cease your criticizing and fault-finding. Satan will keep you at this till the Lord comes, if he can. He knows that thus he can most effectually hinder the Lord’s work. Backbiting is cannibalism. God calls upon His people to have nothing to do with it, but to come to Him, that they may have light and life and salvation. We need the wisdom that comes from above. Pure, this wisdom is, ‘peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated.’ [James 3:17.] If it were not, the love of the Father would not have been so constantly exercised toward us.” The General Conference Bulletin, April 2, 1903.

12 We can be rid of the spirit of back-biting today.

“There are churches in which the spirituality has been almost killed, because the spirit of backbiting has been allowed to enter. Why do we speak words of blame and censure? To be silent is the strongest rebuke that you can give to one who is speaking harsh, discourteous words to you. Keep perfectly silent. Often silence is eloquence. My brethren, you will never enter heaven with a spirit of faultfinding. I ask you to get rid of this spirit before you leave this meeting. Do not take it back with you to your home churches. Ibid., April 6, 1903.

13 We are not to listen to a complaint until we have positive evidence that it is true.

“Here not only the one who makes the complaint is condemned, but the ones who take up this reproach, who cherish it, and repeat it. If reports come to you against the Sanitarium [a ministry; a person], do not receive them till you have positive evidence that they are true.” Review and Herald, September 15, 1885.

14 Refuse to listen to a tale about your neighbor until the Bible rule is followed.

“When any one comes to you with a tale about your neighbor, you should refuse to hear it. You should say to him, ‘Have you spoken of this matter to the individual concerned?’ If he has not done so, tell him he should obey the Bible rule, and go first to his brother, and tell him his fault privately, and in love. If the directions of God were carried out, the flood-gates of gossip would be closed.” Ibid., August 28, 1888.

15 There is no rest or happiness as long as we retain unsanctified traits of character.

“There are those who have only a nominal faith; they draw nigh to God with their lips, while the heart is far from him; but the true wrestler for the victory has a real, living faith, which is implanted in his heart by the Holy Spirit, and it makes every difference in the world with his life and words and actions. He has an aim in life, a living purpose, which shapes the character. This hope is not vague; it rests on a solid basis, which is the truth. It braces the soul for trial, and nerves it for duty, irrespective of inconvenience or inclination. A stubborn, willful spirit is not of Christ, but of Satan; hence, it will not be cherished by him who has the mind of Christ. All impurity of thought will be overcome, and the mind will be trained to pure and holy thoughts. Backbiting and evil speaking will be put away. Jealousy and selfishness will be overcome, for they are Satanic, and not Christlike. Bitter are the fruits of self-indulgence, of unsanctified traits of character. There is no rest or happiness in a life of opposition to God. But sweet is the joy and peace experienced by those who close the door to Satan, and open it to Christ.” The Signs of the Times, October 12, 1891.

16 We can become agents of Satan even while professedly in the Lord’s service.

“When the converting power of God is felt upon the heart, altogether different results will be seen. A person who will allow any degree of suspicion or censure to rest upon his fellow workers, while he neither rebukes the complainers nor faithfully presents the matter before the one condemned, is doing the work of the enemy. He is watering seeds of discord and of strife, the fruit of which he will have to meet in the day of God. He is backbiting; he is taking up a reproach against his neighbor; he is doing a work that will separate very friends. He is striking directly at the reputation of his brother; and envy, jealousy, and evil surmisings are awakened, which endanger the soul’s salvation. He is hedging up his brother’s way, binding his influence; and God will hold him accountable for this work.” Pamphlet 066, 26.

17 What will happen when we really have the love of Christ within?

“Let no one become so self-centered that he will fail to see that the Lord has appointed to every one a work. Let each do his best. This is all that the Lord requires of any one. Let our people read to a purpose the instruction given in the seventh chapter of John. The lessons of this chapter are not carried out in their daily practise. The Lord is not glorified in their lives, because they do not cherish love for one another. When their hearts are filled with the love of Christ, backbiting and criticizing will cease. No longer will Seventh-day Adventists weaken one another’s hands; for they will love one another as Christ has loved them.” Pamphlet 151, 49.

18 We must have a thorough repentance.

“I feel deeply concerning the church at Battle Creek, where are located our important institutions. This great heart of the work sends forth to every branch of the work either a healthy or a sickly and diseased influence. The true condition of the cause of God in Michigan is deplorable. But few realize the spiritual lethargy that prevails. The church at Battle Creek have not made thorough work in repenting and confessing their past sins. Many today hate the light which discovers their wrongs and errors. False repentance is deceiving souls to their ruin. Persons will make spasmodic efforts and appear to feel remorse for their course of action, but do not become converted and soon evidence that the heart is untouched. All the good impressions are soon effaced, and they will return to their same course of fault-finding, whisperings, backbiting, and reporting evil which they have felt troubled over. They declare to others by their own course of action that their repentance is not genuine, that their sorrow was not godly sorrow.” Pamphlet 155, 12.

19 When peace flees and God’s servants are martyred . . .

“How far you will be left to work as Satan’s agents to oppress, to accuse, to wound, and bruise the soul, we cannot determine. But the Lord’s eye is over all. He knows every thought, every deed, every action, and he will judge you as your works have been. I never so longed for Jesus to come as at this time, that the wickedness of the wicked might come to an end. If every member of the church would try to find what good there is in one another, what a Heaven we should have on earth! Cherishing bitterness and suspicion toward one person makes us feel hard and cold and distrustful of everybody. The peace of Christ has no place in the heart that thinketh evil. The mischievous talk about Prof. Bell, Dr. Kellogg, and different ones, is purely the work that Satan instigates. Division, distrust, jealousy, evil-surmising, are sown as thistle seeds are cast to the winds. Satan puts his magnifying glass before your eyes, and everything is viewed as he wills it. Peace flees away. The false tongue should be treated with hot coals of juniper. Dr. Kellogg has made mistakes,—he has erred. His errors have injured my husband. Dr. Kellogg sees his mistakes and feels them, and has confessed them; while those who were more guilty than he is abusing his mind in placing things before him in an exaggerated light, and relating as facts things which had no foundation in truth, led him to feel an assurance that his feelings were correct. His mind was kept stirred up by reporters, tattlers, mischief-makers, and false reporters. My husband was hunted to death, and those who have acted their part faithfully for Satan saw him in his coffin removed from the strife of tongues. He died of a broken heart, and the Lord let him rest. I hold no grudge against any one. I felt to the very depths of my soul over the treatment my husband received, and I have forgiven those who have done this work. I pray the Lord to forgive them. I warn you not to do to another as you have done to him. And when you begin your attacks upon one and then another that do not agree with your ways and please your fancies, I am determined to resist your influence and stand up for the oppressed. Will you send others to their death by your persecuting tongues, your suspicions, your envies, your jealousies? Will you cultivate the worst traits of character in indulging in censuring, backbiting, and falsehood? Is this the element that you love, and will you choose this atmosphere which is the poison of hell? What think you of Jesus? You may talk of his love, you may praise and bless his name, you may adore him all you please; but cease your praise and your flatteries of finite men, and also cease your wicked fault-finding, cease to murder character.” Pamphlet 155, 20, 21.

20 How to make things harder for the evil-tongued persons.

“If these steps [Matthew 18] have not been taken, do not listen to a word, close the ears, and refuse to take up a reproach against your neighbor; listening to the reports of evil is lifting or taking up the reproach. If there were no brethren and sisters to take up the reproach against their neighbors, evil tongues would not find so fruitful a field in which to labor, backbiting and devouring one another.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 281.

21 The need of looking on the bright side.

“God is displeased to have brethren suspiciously pick up an item here, and a jot and tittle there, and construe these tidbits into grave sins. Complaining, faultfinding, and backbiting will be carried on to a large extent among the people when encouraged by the influence of the men engaged in the solemn work of the ministry. To disdain another’s work because it is not in your line of work is an offense to God. It is no less a sin when men who occupy positions of trust engage in it. If you, my brother, were to go into a field where are precious things, shrubs and flowers, and pass these by unnoticed, and begin to complain of the thistles and the briers and unsightly shrubs, and present these as the representation of what was in that field, would it be just? Should you not rather have gathered the roses, the lilies, and the precious things and carried these away, thankful that such blessings did exist, acknowledging that there were things of precious value in that field?” Ibid., 381.

22 Do not listen to reports of faults of your brethren.

Ministers and lay members of the church displease God when they allow individuals to tell them the errors and faults of their brethren. They should not listen to these reports, but should inquire, ‘Have you strictly followed the injunction of your Saviour? Have you gone to the offender and told him his faults between you and him alone, and has he refused to hear you? Have you carefully and prayerfully taken two or three others, and labored with him in tenderness, humility, and meekness, your heart throbbing in love for his soul? If the Captain’s orders, in the rules given for the erring, have been strictly followed, then an advance step is to be taken. Tell it to the church, and let action be taken in the case according to the Scriptures. Then it is that heaven will ratify the decision made by the church in cutting off the offending member if he does not repent.

“If these steps have not been taken, close the ear to their complaints, and thus refuse to take up a reproach against your neighbor. Listening to the reports of evil is taking up a reproach. If there were no brethren and sisters to do this, evil tongues would soon cease, for they would not find so fruitful a field in which to work in backbiting and devouring one another. . . . ” Ibid., vol. 15, 138.

23 Why Satan will constantly tempt us to backbite.

“The unity of the church is the convincing evidence that God has sent Jesus into the world as its Redeemer. This is an argument which worldlings can neither withstand nor controvert. Therefore Satan is constantly working to prevent this union and harmony, that unbelievers, by witnessing backbiting, dissension, and strife among professed Christians, may become disgusted with religion, and be confirmed in their impenitence. God is dishonored by those who profess the truth while they are at variance and enmity with one another. Satan is the great accuser of the brethren, and all who engage in this work are enlisted in his service.” Ibid., 143.

24 How to lose the Holy Spirit and the blessing of God on the church.

“There are those who cherish a spirit of envy and hatred against their brethren, calling it the Spirit of God. There are those who go up and down as talebearers, accusing and condemning, blackening character, inspiring hearts with maliciousness. They carry false reports to the doors of their neighbors, who, as they listen to the slander, lose the Spirit of God. Not even the messenger of God, who bears to the people His truth, is spared.

“This sin is worse than the sin of Achan. Its influence is not confined to those who cherish it. It is a root of bitterness, whereby many are defiled. God cannot bless the church till it is purged of this evil that corrupts minds and spirits, the souls of those who do not repent and change their course of action.” Ibid., vol. 18, 147.

25 Judge by the fruits on the tree.

“ ‘The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! . . . The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. . . . The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison’ (James 3:5, 6, 8). [Psalm 15:1–3 quoted.]

“In a letter to my husband you express surprise that he judges of you as he has, but your fruits have testified of you. You may feel friendless, but if you do you may thank yourself for it. ‘For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God’ (1 Peter 2:20).” Ibid., vol. 19, 33.

26 Do not talk of the deficiencies of your brethren.

“For Christ’s sake, for your soul’s sake, I entreat you, do not talk of the deficiencies of your brethren! Go to work for yourself. Do not any longer grieve the Holy Spirit of God. . . . [Psalm 15 quoted.]

“The ministers whom you condemn God has ordained to do a work for which He has not qualified you. Money cannot supply your deficiency. Your prejudices, preferences, dislikes, your sweeping condemnation of both the Healdsburg College and the Health Retreat, have been active influences in encouraging fault-finding, jealousy, evil surmising throughout all the churches. When your ideas and expectations are not met, you have talked out your dissatisfaction, but God has not prompted you in your independent spirit, in your accusation of His instrumentality. There can be no unity where such things exist. Confidence cannot live amid suspicion and evil surmisings.” Ibid., vol. 20, 97.

27 Breaking the third commandment . . .

“We may make mistakes, and we may have to ‘admonish one another.’ [Romans 15:14.] But there has come into the churches at Oakland and the surrounding community a spirit of backbiting, of faultfinding and evil-speaking, which demonstrates that you are not converted. Words are uttered that never should pass the lips of a Christian. My brethren and sisters, when you have nothing better to speak of than something about the faults of others, remember that ‘silence is eloquence.’ Cease to dwell upon the shortcomings of others. Keep the tongue sanctified unto God. Refrain from saying anything that might detract from the influence of another; for by indulging in these words of criticism, you blaspheme God’s holy name as verily as you would were you to swear. I am instructed to present these things before you, that you may see how you dishonor the name of Christ Jesus. [Verses 15, 16, quoted.]” Sermons and Talks, Book 1, 367.

28 Spirit of the devil.

“What testimony does Peter bear? ‘Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.’ [1 Peter 2:1–3.] Here again the same principle is brought out distinctly. No one need make a mistake. If as new born babes you desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, you will have no appetite to partake of a dish of evil speaking, that all such food will be at once rejected, because those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious cannot partake of a dish of nonsense, and folly, and backbiting. They will say decidedly, ‘Take this dish away. I do not want to eat such food.’ It is not the bread from heaven. It is eating and drinking the very spirit of the devil; for it is his business to be an accuser of the brethren.” The Kress Collection, 64.

[All emphasis supplied.]

To be continued . . .

Pastor Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life Ministry and pastor of the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.