Know When Not to ListenMarch 3, 2013 in Bible - NT - 1 Thessalonians, Meditations, Politics, Sexuality, Tongue
Epiphany and MiscommunicationJanuary 9, 2012 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, King Jesus, Meditations, Tongue
Warnings against this sin are replete in the Scriptures. David complained, “For I hear the slander of many; Fear is on every side; While they take counsel together against me, They scheme to take away my life.” His son Solomon notes in Proverbs 10:18, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool.” And Paul, in the other testament, notes that in the latter days men will be “unloving, unforgiving, slanderers.”
Because of the insidious nature of slander, severe curses are called down upon the one who practices the same. The psalmist prays in Psalm 140:11, “Let not a slanderer be established in the earth; Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.” And God Himself announces in Psalm 101:5, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, Him I will destroy.” God takes slander seriously.
“Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak falsehood to one another;
With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
The tongue that speaks great things;
Who have said, ‘With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are own own; who is lord over us?’
‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy,
Now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will set him in the safety for which he longs.’”
In our fallen nature we frequently think of ourselves as independent, free from all restraint. We consider ourselves autonomous, a rule unto ourselves. We want to define our own reality, to say what is good and right, what is fitting, what is just, what is lovely. This rebellious spirit is reflected in David’s words today. [Quote] “[The wicked say] With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” [End Quote]
Because we imagine ourselves independent, we use our tongue to achieve our own ends – to serve ourselves rather than to serve God and others. The psalm today identifies three ways we abuse the tongue for our own ends. First, we speak falsehood to one another. In other words, we lie to one another. We fail to honor God and our neighbor by giving the gift of truth. Instead we speak falsehood. Why would we do such a thing? Perhaps we have spoken a falsehood to our brother to get something we want, “Mom says you have to give the lollipop to me.” Perhaps we have lied to our parents to avoid punishment, “No, Mom, I didn’t hit junior with this bloody stick – he’s just whining.” Perhaps we have made excuses to our employer to retain our job, “Really, sir, that wasn’t my fault, Ralph is the one who passed the bad information along to me.” Perhaps we have pretended innocence for hurting our spouse to avoid sexual sanctions. “Honey, I didn’t know that you thought our 25th anniversary dinner was important.” Whatever our situation, whatever our justification, when we lie we are not numbered among the faithful of the land, among the godly who fill the earth. “Lying lips,” Solomon says, “are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight.” [Proverbs 12:19]
Not only do we speak falsehood to one another, we also flatter one another. Flattery is, of course, another type of lying. But whereas falsehoods are like vinegar, flattering lies are like sugar water. They are sweet and syrruppy and tasty to those who hear them – until they discover the bitter poison at the end of them. “A man who flatters his neighbor,” Solomon tells us, “Spreads a net for his neighbor’s feet.” [Prov 29:5] The flatterer is he who speaks to his neighbor not for the truth’s sake, not to secure his neighbor’s well-being, but simply to advance his own selfish agenda. When asked for counsel, the flatterer does not consider, “What is true? What is the right thing to do?” but rather, “What does this person want to hear so that I can get what I want from them? “A lying tongue,” Proverbs 26:28 tells us, “hates those who are crushed by it, And a flattering mouth works ruin.”
The culmination of falsehoods and flatteries is deceitfulness. There is, David tells us, a man who speaks with a double heart – who pretends to be your most earnest and heartfelt friend but who is really reserving his heart for another. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth – his heart is not with you. He is like Judas who betrays His Master with a kiss. Solomon warns us to beware such a man:
“Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
Or desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
He says to you, “Eat and drink!”
But his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
And waste your compliments.”
But as we consider the charge of being double-hearted, is this not manifest in our own lives. How often do we betray those to whom we are supposed to be loyal in order to avoid embarrasment? “No, that snivelling little kid isn’t my brother.” Are we not all prone to deceit? Prone to seek our own advantage at the expense of others?
In the psalm today, David warns us and reminds us that fallen men are selfish creatures. Rather than submit our tongues to the Lord, we use them to gratify ourselves. But in the paradox of fallen man, what we think will gratify us in the end destroys us.
Reminded of our failure to submit our tongues to the Lordship of the incarnate Word of God, let us kneel and confess our sins in His name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.
“7 But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.
8 Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies;
Make Your way straight before my face.
9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue.
10 Pronounce them guilty, O God!
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
For they have rebelled against You.”
Psalm 5:7 – 10
In the psalm before us today, David reminds us of the power of a deceitful tongue. Throughout his life, David faced the tragedy of those who used their tongues to promote their own selfish ends rather than to promote truth. Their tongues were not faithful and true, but twisted and false. And so David uses a remarkable metaphor to describe the nature of their speech. Their throat, he says, is an open grave. It awaits to consume innocent passers by. Any hapless victim will do. Let him but come near.
The mouth of the wicked is full of faithlessness. The wicked man makes a promise with his lips but does not follow through. “David, if ever you are in trouble, I will help you out. Don’t worry, I will never desert you. I am your faithful companion.”
But no sooner does trouble arise than these men have betrayed him. David turns to them for help but no help is forthcoming. They have deceived him. They have used their tongues not to promote faithfulness and truth but to promote their own advantage.
But note how vividly this contrasts with the example of our Savior Jesus! His words, though sometimes sharp and stinging, were always true, always concerned for the glory of God and the good of His hearers. He came as the servant of all. He did not come to be served, but to serve. And so His words were not spoken for His own good but for the good of others. He did not speak to achieve something for Himself but to describe in faithfulness the life of the man or woman with whom he was speaking.
And so what of us? How have we used our tongues? Are we speaking honestly with our neighbors, friends, and family when eternal questions arise? Are we seeking their good or our own comfort? I fear it is often the latter.
Children, brothers and sisters, how are you doing? Are you building one another up or tearing one another down? Are you looking for opportunities to help one another and encourage one another? Paul admonishes you, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
Those in authority – employers, parents, husbands – are you speaking the truth in love or are you flattering with your tongues? Are you avoiding speaking honestly with those committed to your charge while inwardly boiling with frustration and resentment? An honest answer, Solomon tells us, is like a kiss on the lips. Hard words make soft hearts. Be honest with those committed to your charge and entrust their response to the Lord.
Husbands and wives, are we ministering the Gospel of Christ to one another or laying burdens of guilt and bondage on one another? Are we not called to love and cherish one another? Has not Christ given us the immense privilege of picturing the beauty of redemption in our homes? Yet often our mouths are an open grave; we speak in spite to one another; we look for ways to tear down those closest to us. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Reminded of our failure to speak faithful words, let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.
Cross my heart and hope to dieOctober 6, 2008 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Ten Commandments, Tongue
James 5:12 (NKJV)12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
The words of James in our text today are very similar to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It seems that within Jewish culture at the time it had become fashionable to redefine the nature of truth telling and lies in order to avoid accountability.
The Ten Commandments had specified quite clearly that in the taking of oaths, one was not to take the name of God in vain. In other words, one was not to swear an oath in the name of the Lord and then lie. Why? Because God would not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain. When we swear in the name of God to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – God takes our oath seriously and holds us to it.
But God’s people had, as sinners, studied for years ways to avoid the thrust of God’s clear words and came up with all kinds of subterfuges by which they could avoid telling the truth. They argued that as long as they didn’t invoke the name of God explicitly then all was acceptable. We can swear by heaven, or by earth, or with some other oath based on some creaturely item and then later break our word. How so? Well, we haven’t explicitly invoked the name of God.
In our passage today, James, like Jesus, denounces such a practice in the strongest terms. He exhorts us to be men and women of our word – men and women who, when we say something, mean it and follow through with it. For what is the origin of added oaths? When Billy is sharing some outlandish tale about martians landing on the roof of the supermarket in Buffalo, New York and his buddy expresses skepticism, Billy has to reinforce his word. He has to get his buddy to believe. So what does he do? He swears an oath. “I swear, I’m telling the truth – cross my heart and hope to die.” In other words, the origin of frequent oath taking is a propensity for lying and stretching the truth. And this doesn’t just happen with martian stories. Why do you think we are so burdened with legalese in the writing of rental contracts, sale contracts, employment contracts, etc? Because we are not people of our word.
So James exhorts us – let your yes be yes and your no, no. Be a man or woman of your word. And beware; if you aren’t, James warns us – just as God did in the giving of the commandments – if you aren’t a man or woman of your word, God will judge you.
So how are we doing? Are we men and women of our word? Or have we too resorted to various means to avoid responsibility for our speech and our commitments? Do we make promises to friends and family and then fail to keep them? Do we make frequent excuses for failing to fulfill our obligations? Do we endeavor to avoid our responsibilities under contracts that we have signed or handshakes that we have exchanged? There was a day in our culture when one’s word meant something – what does your word mean?
The righteous man “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps 15:4b). Reminded that we violate our promises, that our word means little, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.
James 3:9-12 (NKJV)9 With [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
Today we close our exhortations from James regarding the tongue. James offers a stirring rebuke of hypocrisy and asks a series of rhetorical questions driving home the same point again and again – we must control our tongues. Simultaneously his comments illustrate the point he has already made – that this control of the tongue is not something we can conjure up by mere will power but that it must proceed from a heart that has been transformed by the grace of God. By nature we are full of cursing and deceit. We need the Spirit of God to come and transform our hearts in order that we might use our lips to bring glory and honor to our Savior.
Our Lord Jesus explained the source of sins of the tongue in this way:
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” [Mark 7:21-23]
Note carefully that Jesus states that sins of the tongue – deceit and blasphemy as examples – come out of the heart. And James, with his series of illustrations in our text today, makes the same point. “Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”
So here’s the important question – what is coming out of our lips? Because whatever is coming out of our lips reveals what is in our heart. That which comes out of our lips doesn’t emerge willy nilly. Rather, it reflects what is inside.
Some years ago I illustrated this point with my children by having them fill a glass full of water – so full that the water was cresting at the top – and put it on the table. Then I told them, “Bump the table,” which, of course, they were only too happy to do. Then I told them to bump it again and they did. Then I asked a simple question – “When you bumped the table, what happened?” “It spilled,” came the intelligent reply. “Good! But what came out of the glass? Did dirt come out? Oil? Shampoo?” “No,” they reply, “water – because that’s what was in the glass.”
So James is challenging us – what is in your glass? Is it joy, gratitude, thankfulness, and contentment? Or is it cursing, bitterness, and deceit? What comes out of our lips is a reflection of what is in our heart. And so Solomon urges us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Reminded that we are often full of cursing and deceit, full of blasphemy and complaint, full of slander and lies, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.
James 3:7-8 (NKJV)7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
The last number of weeks we have considered various sins of the tongue – ways in which we can abuse the gift of the tongue and so cause not only others to stumble but ourselves to falter in our pursuit of righteousness as well. The tongue, James tells us, is world of iniquity, and our brief survey of gossip, slander, lying, flattery, and complaining has only scratched the suburbs of one of the smaller cities. Beware the tongue, control the tongue.
But today we move on a bit in James’ text only to be confronted with a quandary. For James has been warning us about the dangers of the tongue presumably so that we will alter our behavior, control our tongue and so bring glory and honor to our Savior. But his declaration in our text today seems to undermine this whole objective. Note what James says.
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
If we read this passage carefully we should find ourselves asking, “No man can tame the tongue? Well if no man can tame the tongue what are we doing having this discussion? Why the exhortations, James? If I’m not able to tame my tongue then I’m not responsible to do so, right?” Wrong.
Here we find the biblical authors cutting across the grain of our expectations. The Scriptures simply do not equate ability and responsibility. James holds his readers fully responsible for the use of their tongue – but here we see that he doesn’t assume they have the ability to do what he’s calling them to do.
Well how can that be? How can James hold us accountable for something we can’t even do? The answer is that God created us with the ability to do these things but we rebelled against Him and lost the ability we once possessed. But this does not make us any less responsible.
Imagine, if you will, a father who gives his son a command to mow the yard. But this yard has a special feature. In the midst of the yard is a large pit that, once one falls into, he cannot get out. The father shows his son the yard and exactly how he wants it mowed. He also points to the pit and warns his son to stay away from it. Then the father leaves and the son immediately leaps into the pit prior to mowing the lawn. Is the son still responsible to mow the lawn? Yes. Is he able? No. Is that the father’s fault? No – the son jumped into the pit of his own accord.
This, brothers and sisters, is our state. In our father Adam, we spurned the command of our Lord and ate of the forbidden fruit. Consequently we were plunged into sin and lost the ability we once possessed while still being responsible.
What then is the solution? Is there hope? The only hope is that the Lord himself return, lift us from the pit, forgive us our sin, and restore us to the liberty we lost. Praise be to God that this is the very thing He does when he touches our hearts and calls us to Himself through Christ our Lord.
And so reminded that by nature we have forfeited the ability to do that which God commands and yet remain completely responsible let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord seeking His forgiveness through Christ.