But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. 2 Timothy 2:16
Gangrene is the medical term used to describe a type of tissue death caused by lack of blood supply. Fingers and toes are commonly affected when the small blood vessels that feed them are compromised, for example, by diabetes, smoking, or frostbite. Once the blood flow to those body parts is reduced enough, the tissue affected simply dies. Gangrene doesn’t happen to healthy flesh and is usually a reflection of the poor health of the individual. To treat it, the underlying causes must be addressed, and the dead tissue must be surgically removed. If the rotting, dying flesh is left in place, it’s prone to infection, which can spread and become life-threatening instead of simply limb-threatening.
This is the metaphor Paul used to describe what he referred to as irreverent babble. It seems Paul was addressing specific individuals here – Hymenaeus and Philetus – who were teaching heresy in the church. It also seems though, that Paul’s instruction pertains to all Christians, insisting that we speak the truth, avoiding nonsensical, derisive talk.
Just like gangrene reflects the poor health of the individual suffering from it, the words that come out of my mouth reflect that which is within me. When I see a patient with dying flesh, I know that individual usually has some severe underlying illness. Likewise, when I speak evil, that reflects whatever is within me. Alternately, when I speak goodness and truth, that also reveals that which is within me.
The problem, Paul said, with irreverent babble, is that it metastasizes. Just like infection spreads, our caustic words are contagious. When we gossip or speak evil of others, it infects those who hear it. With our destructive words, the evil in us spreads to those around us, making them sick as well. When I engage in crude, obscene speech, it has some impact on the thoughts and speech of those around me.
What comes out of my mouth when I’m at work or at home? Others often know me best by the things I say. Do I speak truth and love? Or, do I whine, complain, criticize, and mock? Am I being funny or am I just being obscene and condescending? My words flow out of me, exposing that which is within me. Daily, if I want to grow new life instead of death and decay, I must first fill myself with God and then I must make sure that my words reflect that which is truly within me.