We don’t want to live in the past or dwell on former sins. On the whole, not much good comes of thinking back to the unwise things we’ve said or the depraved things we’ve done. We trust that God has fully and finally forgiven our sins, and we do well to leave the past in the past.
But the Bible does make at least one exception. There is at least one time we may benefit from dwelling on our shameful history. Solomon explains in Ecclesiastes 7:21: “Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.”
We are too free with our words. We often say more than we ought to say. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). But we do not restrain our lips and, therefore, we are not lacking in sin. We are imprudent, and idle words come pouring out.
We use our words to talk about others—even people we love and admire. We grumble about them, we disclose information about them. Often we don’t even really mean what we say. Often the words coming out of our mouths are harsher than the thoughts in our heads or the feelings in our hearts. We poke fun at people. We mock them for their eccentricities. We get cheap laughs from recounting their flaws and foibles. Though we harbor no real malice toward them, still we say malicious things, still we recount awkward moments. It’s wrong, it’s shameful, and it’s far too common.
Of course, we hold a double standard. When we learn that others have treated us in this way, we are outraged. When we find that someone has spoken careless words about us, we get angry, we get defensive, we demand justice. And it is right here that Solomon arrests us. “Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.” It is when you are sinned against in this way that you are wise to think of your own sin, to think back to the many times you’ve committed that very same transgression.
When you think back to those sins, you’ll see that so often you didn’t really mean what you said. You were expressing sin, but not hatred; you were senselessly and sinfully grumbling, but not on the basis of real anger. You were being dumb, you were being crabby, you were being loose-lipped, you were trying to make people laugh. You said things you shouldn’t have said. You sinned! But it wasn’t because you hated that person or felt deep a dislike. It was just idle, imprudent talk.
When you hear how others have spoken idly of you, don’t over-react. A moment’s reflection will remind you that you’ve done the very same thing a million times over. If your friends could hear what you’ve said about them, you’d have no friends left. If your fellow church members could hear how you’ve spoken of them, they’d wonder why you’re even part of that fellowship. You know that many of these were idle words, ugly grumbling, senseless ramblings. And you know that same thing is true of so much of what they’ve said to you. When you hear what they’ve said, think back to what you’ve said. Extend grace and move on.