There is nothing more helpful, and potentially destructive, than the tongue. It can encourage or destroy. It can build up or crush into a heap.
How we speak is always an issue of the heart, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34).
In Galatians 5:15, Paul is commanding the church to be alert to how they talk about each other. The terms bite and devour are used to refer to wild animals battling in a death struggle, biting each other. Power struggles occur when we feel someone is threatening our ambitions or pride. We are commanded to make the best of the church, not destroy the worst of it.
Interpersonal problems are primarily personality conflicts or differing opinions. Soon the campaign begins to discredit and ostracize the “troublemaker.” Of course, the “troublemaker” is often never confronted or helped to bring harmony.
Once the case against that person is strong enough or sufficient, people tend to be embittered toward the problem person; he is eliminated, run off, fired, or crushed emotionally. Who cares? No one! The problem is gone…until the next troublemaker emerges.
Continual discord and contention in the churches in Galatia provoked this command. This is what Paul meant when he warned the Corinthians concerning the Lord’s Supper: they were not “discerning the Lord’s body”—that is, the church body. People were hurt, and no one cared.
“Factions” or cliques form in any organization, and they tend to unite against newcomers, criticizing and judging them as inferior, problematic, or useless failures. It can get pretty cruel. Who cares if someone is destroyed? Only Jesus cares!
The ruling principle is love, which helps us build each other up or look for the best in others. When thinking of others, we are commanded to “fix [our] thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Phil 4:8). You can never hurt someone by thinking these things about him.
This is how Christ thinks of us, and now He commands us to think of each other in the same way.
“Heavenly Father, as I observe other believers, help me to think only good thoughts about them. Then help me look for ways to encourage and build them up for Your honor and glory.”