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Hello, friends! Welcome to this Bible study lesson on "Communication Pitfalls." As the apostle James wrote, our tongues are little, but they can cause "a world of iniquity" and can be "full of deadly poison" (James 3:6-8). The Bible lists many common traps that Satan lays for us, and an amazing number of them have to do with what we say. Some may make light of the impact of what we say as "mere words," but God tells us we are being judged by every word. Our communication is a spiritual matter, a reflection of our hearts.

By understanding the dangers outlined in this lesson, we can recognize them and avoid them in our daily conversations. We hope the biblical wisdom recorded in this lesson will benefit you greatly in improved relationships now—and into eternity!

Lesson: Communication Pitfalls

Communication PitfallsThe Bible has a lot to say about our relationships, including how we communicate. How we listen to others and what we say and don't say can build or destroy the connections we have with others. God tells us how to avoid many common pitfalls that can damage our relationships.

Stephen R. Covey relates this story in the chapter about "Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood" in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

"A father once told me, 'I can't understand my kid. He just won't listen to me at all.'

"'Let me restate what you just said,' I replied. 'You don't understand your son because he won't listen to you?'

"'That's right,' he replied.

"'Let me try again,' I said. 'You don't understand your son because he won't listen to you?'

"'That's what I said,' he impatiently replied.

"'I thought that to understand another person, you needed to listen to him,' I suggested.

"'Oh!' he said. There was a long pause. 'Oh!' he said again, as the light began to dawn. 'Oh, yeah! But I do understand him. I know what he's going through. I went through the same thing myself. I guess what I don't understand is why he won't listen to me.'

"This man didn't have the vaguest idea of what was really going on inside his boy's head. He looked into his own head and thought he saw the world, including his boy" (1989, pp. 239-240).

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What Does the Bible Say About Communication Pitfalls?

How important does God consider the subject of communication?

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Matthew 12:34-37
"Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
"But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
"For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

James 3:5-8
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

If we speak without thinking, we too often display the fruits of thinking without God. Since God is judging our every idle word, we need to give our words careful attention.

Can not listening be a communication pitfall?

Proverbs 18:2, 13
A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart...
He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.

Stephen Covey addresses our society's lack of emphasis on listening skills: "Communication is the most important skill in life. We spend most of our waking hours communicating. But consider this: You've spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual's own frame of reference?" (ibid., pp. 237-238).

We need to focus on the other person and force ourselves to seek understanding of his or her point of view before sharing our own.

What's the sure way of avoiding saying something wrong?

Proverbs 10:19
In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

Proverbs 21:23, New Living Translation
If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble.

Keeping our mouths shut is a sure way of not saying something bad, but we can't get through life without communicating. In fact, Proverbs 10:19 clarifies that it is a "multitude of words" that generally causes the problem. We should avoid being overly talkative and garrulous. Also we must be very careful to think before we speak and to choose our words carefully. Whatever we say should be edifying with an intent to reflect the nature of Christ and to glorify God.

What does the Third Commandment teach about what we should and shouldn't say?

Exodus 20:7, New Living Translation
"Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name."

Matthew 5:33-37
"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'
"But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
"Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one."

God's name is precious and sacred and deserves the highest respect, though society today so often uses it in cheap and vile ways. God allowed His name to be used in oaths and promises in the Old Testament times, but Jesus Christ told Christians to not swear at all. We should be as careful with our words and promises as if we had sworn, because as Christians we are to represent God honorably in our words and actions.

For more about the meaning and application of the Third Commandment today, see "The Third Commandment: From Profanity to Praise."

What else does the Bible say about disrespectful, foul or abusive talk?

Exodus 22:28
"You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people."

2 Peter 2:10-12
...and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.
But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption...

Ephesians 4:29
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

Ephesians 5:4
...neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

Our words should be respectful and uplifting, whether we are talking about God or other people.

What does the Ninth Commandment teach us about truth and lying?

Exodus 20:16
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

Proverbs 6:16-17
These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood...

Ephesians 4:25
Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another.

Revelation 21:27
But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

God is a God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4), and lying is the antithesis of His honest and holy nature. Our modern world doesn't value truth as highly, and it is so easy to justify a "little" lie when it seems to benefit us. But God hates lying and will not allow it in His Kingdom, so we must see through deceit and strive to avoid allowing lies through our lips.

For more about the meaning and application of the Ninth Commandment today, see "The Ninth Commandment: Truth as a Way of Life."

How does the Bible describe gossip?

Leviticus 19:16
You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Proverbs 16:27-28
An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.
A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.

Proverbs 26:20-22, New Living Translation
Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.
A quarrelsome person starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.
What dainty morsels rumors are—but they sink deep into one's heart.

Gossip can seem delicious, but it can be deadly to even best friendships. Gossip and rumors can spread like wildfire and can be just as destructive.

What does the Bible say about sowing discord and causing offense?

Proverbs 6:19
[God hates] A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.

Proverbs 18:19
A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.

Our words can have a devastating effect on others. We can create discord and offend those who trust us. Afterwards, we can't take the words back, and trying to win back someone's trust can be a nearly impossible task as they build up walls of defenses to avoid being hurt again.

How much better to think about our words in advance and remove the pointed ones and defuse the explosive ones!

How should we deal with others' offensive words or gossip?

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.
For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.

When gossip or offensive words are directed at us, we can struggle to avoid hatred, bitterness and a desire for revenge. As much as possible, we should ignore and try to avoid hearing these things. But sometimes we will be hurt and need to deal with the situation. For more about how to deal with hurtful people, see our lesson on "Dealing With Difficult People."


Apply Now

Consider the various pitfalls covered in this lesson: not listening, profanity, foul language, shading the truth, gossip, being offensive or taking offense. Which is the problem you need to work on most?

Jot down notes about when this behavior is most a problem for you and think about how you might avoid it. Reread the scriptures that deal with that pitfall and ask for God's help to overcome the problem. Repeat this process till, with God's help, you have got this problem under control.

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Questions about this lesson? Feedback about this lesson?

Related Resources:

Keys to Good Communication

Communicating More Effectively

Turning the Hearts... Communicate

Dirty Talk—Does God Care?

My Name Is Gossip

Gossip, Bullies and Technology

Encouraging Words

Making Life Work

The Ten Commandments

Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion

Dealing With Difficult People

Kindness: From the Heart to the Helping Hand

Ten Things You Can Say to Make Someone's Day