No child wants to go to school on a Saturday, but class is in session today: Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord (v. 11). From what we see daily, fear is a natural impulse for human beings. Do we really need to be taught to fear? We are constantly being told to buy a new product that will alleviate the ever-present, death-dealing fears of sickness, loneliness, cultural differences, change, and even death itself.
Fearing the Lord is different because it leads to life, not death. In our passage, the psalmist asks, “Which of you desires life…?” The pursuit of life is the motivation for fearing the Lord. And the first lesson in fearing the Lord is to keep your tongue from evil (v. 13). Scripture warns against backbiting and gossiping. So much of what goes wrong in human relationships and in the world originates with the words we say. Words express thoughts and shape reality. Talk shows and talking heads spin stories of how the world is, then we reflexively repeat these narratives without using the Gospel as a critical filter. We keep our tongue from evil when we discern whether the words we use or borrow are the ones Jesus would use or mention. Mouths that avoid evil speak truth, love, justice, and hope.
Jesus calls his followers to resist speaking evil, to do good and seek peace even though they know that the results will not always be what we hope for. However, the faithful Christian witness of many Black Americans and their allies against inequality confirm the psalm’s conviction that when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and rescues them from all their troubles. Let’s not ever ignore the fact of evil, but always remember to have faith that God delivers the righteous (v. 19).
What evil do you need to stop speaking?
Faithful God, I surrender to you my mind, my heart, and my mouth. Amen.