A Thought on Hurtful Speech (Ecclesiastes 7:20-22)

Ecclesiastes 7:20-22

20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

“I just can’t believe that he would say such a thing about me.” How often have you thought or said something like those words? How often have we found ourselves angry, indignant, and utterly amazed that someone would say something mean about us? How often do we find ourselves offended at the words of another, and want to demand satisfaction—either an apology or the opportunity to get them back with clever words of our own?

The book of Ecclesiastes is a tough one to interpret. It is difficult to recognize when we are seeing the worldly wisdom of Solomon that will be overturned with the eternal perspective of chapter 12. Sometimes there are things said in the book we can tell are simply the words of a man who is not viewing the world from a Godward perspective. But there are other times when we see real, Proverbs-like wisdom literature. I believe that just such wisdom writing is 7:20-22.

Solomon, with characteristic punch, tells us three things in a row that are worth our attention. First, he reminds us that all people are bound to error. Second, he tells us that we ought not get ourselves too worked up when we hear that somebody has said something against us. Then, he drops the hammer and closes the deal when he reminds us that, if we are honest, all of us have spoken ill of others before.

Is it not amazing that we will become so offended and demand justice when a person speaks ill of us, but, when we have spoken ill of others, we generally find ways to excuse our behavior? We say that we must be excused, because we were angry, because we did not understand the situation, because what they did was so horrible that we had to say what we said, or because, “Hey, nobody’s perfect.” We excuse our own flaws and we latch onto the flaws of others. We want to be excused while we want others not to be. We want justice for them and grace for ourselves.

So, perhaps we need to learn from Ecclesiastes 7:20-22. The next time we are hurt by the careless or even mean-spirited words of another person, perhaps we should remember verses 20 and 22. We too are sinners. We too have spoken ill of others in our past. We too have been mean-spirited in our own histories. And so, then we might be able to handle verse 21 and not get too worked up about it. Sure, if what they did was really a big deal, we can go to them and explain to them how hurtful were their words. But if we go, let us learn to go with grace, knowing that we have so often needed that grace ourselves for saying things just like what they said.