Avoiding Bitterness of Mind and Speech
“Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.”- Ecclesiastes 10:20
In keeping with Scripture’s focus on both the inward disposition and outward action, the Old Testament Wisdom Literature addresses the heart and mind as well as the deeds that reflect what we are thinking and feeling within. Proverbs 3:1–12 exemplifies this approach well, as it talks about trusting in the Lord with the heart and how that works itself out in the steps we take on the paths God has set for us.
Today’s passage also gives us guidance from the Wisdom Literature regarding inner thoughts and outer deeds, explaining that the wise person does not allow bitterness to take root in the mind or bear fruit in words (Eccl. 10:20). Note how the advice makes good practical sense even apart from its import for spiritual matters. One commentator has noted that those who attain to high positions and wield much influence, typified by “the king” and “the rich” in our devotional text, gain their position often in part due to good connections with others and a remarkable ability to know what goes on behind closed doors. Thus, to grumble about these people in even those places that seem to be most hidden from the outside world (“your bedroom”) is foolish. After all, those who are the focus of our complaints might have “eyes and ears” where we do not expect them, and anything we say just might end up making its way to them. If this happens, we can certainly expect an unpleasant reprisal.
Even more important, however, are the spiritual ramifications of today’s passage. The Lord warns us not to allow the “root of bitterness” to spring up and cause much trouble and defilement (Heb. 12:15). Our hearts and minds make up the seat of sin, and if we allow bitterness to take up residence within, we will find ourselves far from the kingdom if we never come to repentance. This is one of the reasons why gossip is so dangerous. Words spoken in secret reveal the state of one’s heart, and if the state of one’s heart is not oriented toward love of neighbor, as impenitent gossip reveals, then one does not truly love God (1 John 4:20). The spreading of misinformation or uncertain facts about another person indicates that a root of bitterness may be slowly taking over one’s heart, inclining it away from the kingdom of heaven. Even if words spoken behind closed doors about others never reach the ears of the people about whom they are spoken, God hears them and evaluates accordingly the heart from which they spring.
Wise people put up safeguards in their thoughts and actions to help keep them from being ensnared by a root of bitterness. Lest our minds lead us astray, it is wise to think on what is true, good, and beautiful so that our thoughts are not filled with curses and other unclean things (Phil. 4:8). At the same time, we should endeavor not to listen to or repeat uncertainties that we hear about others or otherwise gossip about our neighbors.
Passages for Further Study