This sermon is number 2 in a series of 5
Sins We Have Sanitized - Part 2
by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, good evening to you all again, and thank you to our brother Bertie. It's a privilege to be with you again to bring God's word. I want you to turn with me to the book of James, please, for the reading of scripture - James chapter 3. Now you will remember that - well, I hope you remember anyway - that we have taken a title for these four Thursday nights I'm with you, and it is 'Sins We Have Sanitized'. We started off last Thursday night looking at 'Mental Sins', and we're not going to cover any of that ground again. Tonight we're looking at 'Verbal Sins', and in subsequent evenings - I'm not sure in which order - we'll be looking at 'Spiritual Sins' and 'Cultural Sins'.
But tonight we're looking at 'Verbal Sins', and you probably could have guessed the portion of Scripture that we would read from - James 3. Verse 1: "My brethren, be not many masters", or teachers, "knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh", and we'll end our reading at verse 12, and I'd ask you to keep a marker, please, in that portion of Scripture. We will be looking at other passages of Scripture tonight, but we want to concentrate on James in particular.
I did explain last Thursday night what our title means, 'Sins We Have Sanitized' - and to sanitize something is just to make it more acceptable. We highlighted this great fact that was in the church of Jesus Christ - but particularly within the personal lives of God's people, in the West at least - many sins have become accepted in their lives. We did also highlight the fact that these tend to be internal sins rather than external and, that being the case, they are more dangerous because they are harder to detect - they are hidden sins, less obvious. Yet we also noted that that matters very little to God, because secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. Sin is sin to God, irrespective of whether it is hidden or not.
Now we concentrated last week on the mind, and we did say that all sins starts, in embryo is conceived, in the mind. We're looking tonight at verbal sins, but verbal sins have a special relationship with the mind as well. If you consider it, our words are an expression of our thoughts. Our speech expresses what is in our minds, and at times also in our emotions, our feelings. We know this from the expressions we use in everyday language: 'Speak your mind', we will say to a man or a woman; or 'Tell me what's in your heart'; or 'A penny for your thoughts'. All of those things express how our words communicate what is in our mind.
Now the Bible bears that out, for in John chapter 1 the Lord Jesus Christ is described as 'the Word', Greek 'Logos', 'of God'. We know from the whole of the revelation of Scripture that Jesus Christ, as He came into the world, was the express image and the brightness of God's glory. He was communicating the mind of Almighty God so that we can say, 'If you want to know what God is like, look at the Word of God, that is: the Lord Jesus Christ'. He was the Word, and He expressed the mind of God. So 'word' is the way that we communicate our thoughts. To take it a step further: word is also a way that we implant our thoughts in the minds of others.
I was always taught: 'Coughs and sneezes spread diseases', and words infect minds with thoughts. Words and expressions spread thoughts. So if we take what we do with our minds seriously, and what we let into our minds, we need to deal very seriously with words, because words are an expression of the mind. We need to take our speech seriously. Of course, our Lord Jesus taught this in Matthew 12:34, He said: 'Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh'.
Now here are a number of things I want you to note down concerning our speech. The Lord has just said, as I have quoted, that speech reveals what is in the heart. Speech reveals what is in the heart. Our words are like a barometer of our character. You only need to listen to a person for a wee while, talk to them, engage with them, to find out where they are spiritually. Now that might seem simplistic to some of you, but the fact of the matter is: scripture teaches that if a lie or a deception is expressed with the mouth, it is only because there is a lie or a deception in the heart. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Now, you see what we're saying right away - it's what we said last week: the heart is the heart of the problem. Not necessarily the things we do, but our heart problem is the intrinsic problem that we have in sinning and before God, and we need to have our hearts changed: we need to be born again. That's why, if you're here tonight and you're not saved, and you're trying to cleanse yourself from the outside in, it's never going to work because the problem is in your heart! You need to be cleansed from the inside out, God needs to give you a new heart, that's why you need to be born again!
Nevertheless, speech is a great problem, an inner problem that becomes externalised. It seems to have been a severe problem for the Christians that James was writing to. If you look in chapter 1:26, you see this where he says: 'If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth', controls, 'not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain' - that's serious, isn't it? If you can't control your tongue, your religion is empty, it's vacuous, it's meaningless. In chapter 4 verse 1, we see there was a lot of strife and fighting among these believers: 'From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?'. They were devouring one another with their words! Verse 11 of chapter 4 again: 'Speak not evil one of another' - they are obviously doing it, otherwise James wouldn't have needed to censure it. But the greatest portion that deals with the tongue is, of course, chapter 3 that we read together.
Now we're going to look at this verse by verse to glean what God's Spirit is saying to us concerning our speech. Verse 1 reads: 'My brethren, be not many masters', or 'let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation'. Now we've seen from the words of the Lord Jesus, 'Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks', that speech reveals what's in the heart. Now the Lord is saying here in verse 1 that speech will be severely judged. Some people have a lust for the limelight, would you believe that? There are a lot of people that would love to get up into the pulpit and pontificate. Sometimes even when you are gifted of God, and you're young and green behind the ears - as I can remember not too long ago, maybe I still am! - it's the romance of preaching and doing God's work that captivates your heart, rather than the wrestling that is involved in it, and the great awesome responsibility of standing before men and women and representing God and delivering God's word! That's what we have here in verse 1: our speech will be severely judged! James is saying to a lot of people who like the sound of their own voice: 'Don't you be desiring to be a lot of teachers, because you'll be judged more severely than anyone else'.
The pulpit is not for those who like the sound of their own voice - and I have to confess to you that I shudder when I think of what I have said in the past from the pulpit, the true as well as the false. I shudder when I consider, at times, the way I said it - because I will be judged more severely than any of you that have never mounted a pulpit. I think it was a Quaker proverb that went like this: 'Of your unspoken words you are the master, of your spoken words the servant, and of your written words the slave'. Speech will be severely judged, whether you're a preacher or not, it will be judged!
We'll move into verse 2, there's something for everyone here: 'For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body'. Here's another principle: speech is a sign of self-control. Speech is a sign of whether or not you can control yourself. Whether or not you can control yourself, James says, hinges on whether or not you can control your tongue, your words. Now one of the fruit of the Spirit is expressed in one of these characteristics, which is: self-control - now that's not moderation, that is being able to control yourself. If you want to know if you have the fruit of the Spirit, specifically self-control, ask yourself: 'How do I control my words?'.
A loose tongue, James says, betrays a loose life. That's what he's talking about in verse 2: discipline, self-discipline - a person who speaks thoughtlessly and carelessly lives that way. Now we have a saying, and it's even preached, and I think I have preached it: actions speak louder than words. It's one you could marry very well with book of James, but it's not always true. Actions don't always speak louder than words. The fact of the matter is, we can be very deceptive in our outward appearance - we learned that from the Pharisees last week, and by the fact that these are hidden sins that we're speaking of specifically. Our actions can deceive, and yet there is a great test of our discipline in the words, the speech that we use. If you want to test - not anybody, you should be testing yourself, whether or not you have self-control or not - observe your conversation for about half an hour.
I remember years ago when tape recorders were all the rage, its CDs now, for a laugh sometimes on Sunday night at supper somebody would hide one, and press record, and then play it back after a while. Everybody was embarrassed at what they were talking about, and maybe the emptiness of their conversation - but you can know very quickly from talking with anyone for about 20 minutes to half an hour, whether or not they are self-controlled. When a person speaks they are known, this is the seriousness of our words! There is nothing that reveals a person more than their words. So speech is a sign of self-control, verse 2 says.
Move on to verse 3 through to verse 6, we'll not read them just yet, but together they tell us that speech should never ever be underestimated. Now he gives us illustrations for this, and he compares the tongue to three things. First of all, verse 3, 'Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body' - a horse's bridle. Then verse 4, he compares the tongue to a ship's rudder that turns that ship wherever the pilot wishes. Then in verse 5, he compares the tongue to a small fire. Now take the first two, the bridle and the rudder: they need a master. Because - they are small, granted - they have a great influence, they need someone to control them, to discipline them. He's teaching us that the tongue needs to be mastered. Taking this fire illustration in verse 6, he tells us the reason why it must be mastered: because 'the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature', or as the margin says, 'the whole wheel of nature; and it is set on fire of hell'.
Now, what does that mean? Well, we saw last week that we all have been born with an old sinful nature. The tongue has the power, like a fire, to ignite those works of the flesh in our own sinful nature. For instance: temper, hate - they are of the flesh, they are of the wheel and course of nature, and they are set on fire by the tongue. Someone says something to you, and all of a sudden your heckles get up. Do you see it? Thinking of it more corporately, how many times has strife been stirred up in a church, in a community, in a country because of words that were spoken? Oh, we cannot underestimate words, James tells us.
Years ago in the Atlanta Journal there was this article, and it went like this - listen carefully, see if you can identify who is speaking: 'I am more deadly than the screaming shell of a howitzer' - a howitzer is a big American cannon. 'I win without killing. I tear down homes, break hearts, and wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea and often as innocent. I never forget and seldom forgive. My name is Gossip'. Never underestimate, James says, the significance of our speech and what our tongues can do.
Now, are you getting a picture of the seriousness of this issue, verbal sins? Jesus says speech reveals what's in the heart. James says speech will be severely judged. James says again, speech is a sign of self-control - if you can't control your tongue, you can't control yourself. Again in verses 3 to 6, speech should never ever be underestimated.
There's something more that he reveals to us. Verses 7 and 8: 'Every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison'. Now listen carefully, this is the only answer for speech: speech must be crucified! Put to death! There is no remedy for it! It's like our old sinful flesh: you can't redeem the flesh, you can't save the flesh, it must be put to death - that's why the Lord Jesus Christ died, because we cannot overcome sin, so He had to put them to death that we might reckon them dead by faith, and be alive unto God through His eternal life in us. Are you experiencing that tonight? Even as a believer, my friend, you need to get to grips with this - and I feel this is one of the biggest obstacles to people getting victory in the Christian life, to maturity in their spiritual experience: they have never reckoned themselves to be dead with Christ. They are dead, it's a fact, as we saw last week: we are free from oppressive thoughts, we are free from the old man, we are free from the fire of the tongue - but many of us are not living in the experience of that, because we have never reckoned it so by faith.
You see what James is saying: this old tongue, it can't be tamed. It can't be tempered! You can't bite your tongue enough! It must die! Romans 6:11 says that we have died with Christ and we're alive to God. Now, my friend, just like last week we applied the power of the cross to our minds: you've got to apply the power of the cross to your tongues. Dead to the evil tongue, and alive to the praises and truth of God - is that your experience? There's no other answer, no other answer. You've got to come to Calvary's cross, there's no other answer for sin - full stop - but Calvary's precious blood. Speech can only be crucified.
He goes on in verses 9 and 10: 'Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude', or likeness, 'of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be'. What a statement! These things ought not so to be! Speech, James is now saying, is often double-tongued, double-tongued. It shows you the wickedness of it: it's duplicitous, it's fork-tongued, literally two-faced - that's the way our tongues are! The tongue was never created to in the one breath praise God, and in the next breath curse man - and yet that is what our tongues do continually: curse a man who is made in the image of the God that we've just been praising!
He goes on with his illustrations in verse 11 to say: 'Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?'. He's saying that the nature of water reveals the source of the fountain it comes from. Verse 12: 'Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs?'. He's now furthering this illustration a wee bit more, and he's saying that the kind of fruit shows the type of a tree. So what he's saying is, now listen carefully, we're always talking about the fruit of our lives being our works - and I know that this book in James talks about that - but here in chapter 3 he's saying: our fruit is our words. Our fruit is our words.
What James is implying here is that if God has put His life in us - right? Here is the image he is using - and we have been ingrafted into the Vine, we have God's life flowing through our being, if there are living waters of God's Holy Spirit springing up in us, we should not be producing bad fruit, and we should not be sending forth bitter water - we'll produce the right fruit, godly fruit, godly words, and sweet water; praise unto God and not cursing of men. Well, how are your words? How are my words?
You know, there's a great deal of verbal sin in the lives of God's people, and I'm going to cover quite a number of them tonight in the time that we have left. The first two are those that I'm going to spend the most time on. The first of these verbal sins are untrue words, untrue words. Now we need to turn to Ephesians, please - and put that marker in James, we might need it - Ephesians 4 is another important passage to do with our speech, Ephesians 4. In Ephesians 4 and verse 25, Paul again writing to Christians says: 'Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another'. Paul is speaking about untrue words, there's to be no lying. We are to be true with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and indeed transparent with everyone on the face of the earth.
Now, when you think about it, that is spiritually logical. Almighty God - and I use that title of God advisedly - Almighty God cannot, cannot, lie; and He doesn't allow us to either. Now we must not dumb down lying. We do this continually, 'Oh, it was only a wee white lie', or 'They're only fibs'. The secretary tells somebody on the phoneline that the boss isn't in, and he's sitting in front of her. The child tells the rent man at the door, 'Oh, mummy and daddy aren't in', and they're up the stairs hiding behind the bed. We don't consider these things to be lies, we have a very narrow definition of lying that the Bible does not recognize. Oh yes, lying is bearing false witness and telling a barefaced lie as we would call it, but the Bible's definition is far broader. Here's a number of untrue words that the Bible speaks of: being double-tongued - incidentally, last week we were thinking of the mind, and James talks about a double-minded man. You can be sure of this: if you're a double-minded man, you'll have a double-tongue. It will express doubly in your words. Disingenuous statements: saying one thing to one person at one particular time, and then saying a completely different thing to another person at another period of time. Or double-tongued could be just telling a person what they want to hear when you know they want to hear it. Do we do that? Sure we do. Double-tongued, the Bible calls that lying.
Broken promises. Don't think that a lot of the church believes any more that when a man and a woman stand before God and enter into a promise with each other and God - the Bible calls it a covenant - that they are giving their word. Divorce is rampant within the church of Jesus Christ, and I don't minimise the pain that it causes in many a home and many a heart, but the fact of the matter is: we need to remember that, when we stood there at the front of that church, we gave our word - we gave our word. What about vows to God that we make? I feel deeply convicted, because I can remember times when I came out of meetings, I remember times when I wrote declarations and signed my name to them and dated them, and yet I've gone back on them time after time again! That's lying! Ecclesiastes says: 'When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay'. Never you feel under pressure to come out of a meeting and consecrate, or write on any dotted line to give anything to God, if you're not meaning it. It would be better you didn't do it, as did it and didn't mean it.
Do you remember what happened Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5? They lied to the Holy Spirit, and they were struck down - and if God was doing that kind of thing today in our churches, there'd be hardly any members left! Broken promises, the Bible says it's lying. The Bible calls flattery lying. Now, don't think that encouragement - I think there's a lot of Christians, and we preachers (feel sorry for us here now!), I think a lot of Christians think encouragement is flattery - no it's not! We need encouragement, every believer needs encouragement, we all do. But flattery is excessive compliments, and here's the crux of it: it is excessive compliments to keep well in with someone you're giving them to - that's the heart of flattery. You want to get on their good side! Someone has said: 'Flattery goes to the head, criticism to the heart - that's good, but I would change it to say this, 'Flattery goes to the head, encouragement to the heart'. If you want to know the difference between encouragement and flattery: encouragement bolsters the heart and spirit of a man in the work of the Lord, but flattery blows his head up so he can be on your side. Do we engage in flattery? We all have an urge, don't we, to have people like us. Yet so often that verges into sin, the sin of lying, flattery.
Here's another one: exaggeration, you know what exaggeration is. Now maybe someone will come to me and say: 'Now, the Lord Jesus exaggerated in some of His parables, and some of His stories', and you'd be right because the Lord Jesus used a literary mechanism called hyperbole. Hyperbole simply means that it's a type of exaggeration to create an emphasis. You remember He said: 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go into the kingdom of heaven'. He says it's better that you cut your hand off, than it cause you to sin; or pluck your eye out, than it cause you to sin. What He's doing is, He's being radical and exaggerating in this way to create an emphasis - but that is different than the exaggeration we're talking about that the Bible calls lying, because this type of exaggeration sets yourself up in a better light. It's personal now, it's not for the benefit of somebody else, it's for you. We Christians, particularly Christian workers, are experts at it: we exaggerate the number of people who have been saved, the amount of blessing in our own ministries. We exaggerate at times, I exaggerate my walk with God, we walk about with a holy aura and a halo around our heads. We want people to think great of us, and we exaggerate what we really are on our knees, what we really are in our hearts - and, you know, it's lying! It's lying.
It's very similar to inaccuracy, which is also lying. Getting the facts wrong and the figures wrong, and when we know they're wrong, just letting them stay wrong. That's very connected to another lie the Bible speaks of, which is embellishing facts with your own interpretations - do you know what that is? Well, it's the old game 'Chinese Whispers', it's exactly the same thing: where we add a little bit on to a story. It might be our interpretation, it might be our desire of what we would like to see come out of the situation, and before you know it: when it reaches the last person in the line, the story is unrecognizable! The Bible calls that lying, and it's no laughing matter either because spiritual death, much spiritual death has been created among God's people and in Christian assemblies by people embellishing the facts, putting their own interpretations on facts and creating fallacy. I'll tell you this: you see when this kind of thing enters into an assembly? It is nigh on impossible to unite God's people! There's nothing worse than God's people feeling they are being lied to.
That's why the Lord Jesus - surely, is it not - when we think of what untrue words can be: double-tongued, broken promises, flattery, exaggeration, inaccuracy, embellishing...that's why He said you should forget about oath taking. Didn't He teach that in the Sermon on the Mount? We shouldn't need oaths, the Lord Jesus is saying, because if we're telling the truth they are pointless. He reiterates it, by the way, in James chapter 5 and verse 12: 'But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yes be yes; and your no, no; lest ye fall into condemnation'. I'm not getting into this tonight, but I don't believe that means that you're not to take an oath in the court of law. I believe the Lord Jesus was put under oath, and God Himself put Himself under oath - so that's not what's being spoken of here. What the Lord is getting, and what James is reiterating, is: your words should be enough. You shouldn't be running around saying: 'Oh, I swear on my granny's grave', and all this nonsense - your 'Yea', yea, and your 'Nay, nay! Someone put it well: 'Oaths are of no use anyway, because a good man doesn't need one, and a bad man doesn't heed one!'. Just tell the truth.
Boy, this is all connecting - and I didn't really mean it to connect in a sense. Satan, in John 8:44 the Lord calls him 'the father of lies'. He wants his children to go out and spread those lies, because he needs those lies on which to build his kingdom and upset the kingdom of God - every thought and piece of knowledge that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. He wants to sow his seeds of lies. Now, my friend, God forbid that you or I as a Christian should do the devil's work - and, I'll tell you, the devil's work is being advanced, and his kingdom is being stretched from shore to shore, by believing Christians. Now listen, if you're not long saved: as soon as we're saved, as soon as we can, we've got to learn to resist lies - whether they're spoken lies that we're talking about tonight, or unspoken lies that we were thinking about last week, accusations of the devil. We must refrain from both of them, we must refrain from speaking inaccurately, we must refrain from either adding to the facts or taking away from the truth. Any untruthfulness, any lies, any hypocrisy that remains in our lives is a ground for Satan to attack.
Remember we said last week: any thoughts that we allow to come into our mind, from whatever source, to feed our old nature or to exploit the influence of evil spirits; we'll pay for it in our mind, and we'll give ground to the devil. It's the same with our words: if we don't learn to bridle the tongue, to crucify it and let God's Spirit liberate it, we're in trouble and the devil will use our mouths! We need to learn to speak before God - that means to speak the truth, nothing more, nothing less; to speak objectively the facts, not subjectively what I feel about them. Am I splitting hairs? If I am, the Bible is splitting hairs. If I am, you're all right the way you are, if you're double-tongued, you've broken promises, you've flattered, you exaggerate, you're inaccurate, you embellish the facts.
That's only the first one! Verbal sins: untrue words - that's the most obvious, isn't it? Here's a second one here in Ephesians 4:29, the first part: 'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good' - no corrupt communication. Now that word 'corrupt' simply means 'worthless', something unfit for use - we would call it 'empty talk'. The Lord Jesus had something to say about that in Matthew 12:36, now listen carefully, He said: 'Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment'. Did you hear that? Every idle word, we'll stand before God and give account to Him - idle talk, empty chatter, it's sin! The Lord is saying we ought to confess it as sin, we ought to put it away. Now mark this: the issue here is not the truth of the words that we engage in idle chatter with, the issue is whether or not we should say them - so it's different than untrue words.
You see the truth can be idly spoken, do you understand what I'm getting at? What I'm saying is: to tell the truth doesn't always shame the devil. You see the way these things get into our heads, and mess us up? To tell the truth if it's harmful, if it doesn't edify, if it pulls others down and exalts yourself - which is the reason why we do it anyway - it does the devil's work. Telling the truth does the devil's work at times. Someone has said: 'Whatever we speak must be according to facts, but not all facts should be spoken'. Do we ask ourselves: 'Well, this might be true about so-and-so, but is it helpful to them? Is it edifying to them and the person that I'm relating it to?'. Do you know what 1 Corinthians 13 says: 'Love rejoiceth not in iniquity', it doesn't take pleasure in other people's stumbling! But the Lord says that all idle words, whether they're true or false will be repeated verbatim in God's holy presence one day! Do you think words are serious now?
Do you know what some of the greatest type of worthless words are? Gossip. You know, gossip can be true as well as untrue. William MacDonald quotes Bill Gotherd in one of his books as he defines, or tries to define, gossip - he says: 'It is sharing information with someone who is neither part of the problem or its solution', that's good. Sharing information with someone who is neither part of the problem or of its solution...'or', he goes on, 'talking in a derogatory manner about someone who is absent. Gossip puts its victim in an unfavourable light' - do you know why that is? To put 'me' in a favourable light. 'It says things that are not kind, edifying, or necessary. It is badmouthing a person behind his back, rather than confronting him face-to-face. It is a form', he says, 'of character assassination'. Now that's serious! You could be taken to a court of law for doing that, you know - character assassination, libel it is called.
Now we Christians are great at this here, we sanitize this thing, we make it acceptable, and we disguise it at a prayer meeting! 'I'm only sharing this information for prayer, but I've got some awful news' - that can be gossip. Or we protect ourselves, we're good at that, covering our own back: 'I'm going to tell you this, but I'm sharing it in confidence'. Now, we've all done that - it's not always wrong to do that, by the way, but if you're doing that to get a kick that you haven't fallen and someone else has, you're in trouble. I'll tell you something else: you'll have to have a good memory, you'll have to remember all the people you told in confidence. There were two women on one occasion - and this could have happened in East Belfast, but it didn't - they were heard talking to one another. One woman said: 'Tilly told me you told her that secret I told you not to tell her'. 'Oh, she's a mean thing! I told Tilly not to tell you I told her'. 'Well, I told Tilly I wouldn't tell you she told me, so don't tell her I did!'. Did you understand that? No, you didn't! Because you can't - and that's the way it gets, we get into a tangle and into knots, and we don't know where the truth is any more, and we don't know where confidence is any more, or trust any more!
There's a Turkish proverb goes like this: 'Who gossips to you will gossip of you' - that's a good one to learn. Now, don't misunderstand me: leaders in the church, elders, and God's men need to discuss matters of discipline at times and concern about believers - but it's always intended to help, or at least it should be, it's never to tear down - and that's not gossip. Put it this way: has somebody ever started to converse with you about someone else, and began to tell you a juicy bit of gossip, and then they stopped and they said, 'No, I'm not going to go on, because that wouldn't be edifying'. Has that ever happened to you? Put your hand up if that's ever happened to you - it hasn't happened to many! Yet that's what we need, that's what we need more of! Why is it not happening? I'll tell you why: because the problem is not just our tongues, it's our ears; not just our speaking, but our hearing - because if there was no demand for gossip, there would be no supply. If we knew how to listen, we would know how to talk, and there would be less gossip and fewer lies. The trouble is: many of us are willing to listen - worse, many of us want to listen - even worse, many of us have a lust to listen! Many of these small fires, as James puts it, engulf assemblies around our province and world - and if these things were only put out when they were a small fire, they would have done little to no damage, but they weren't. People fanned the flames - not by their gossip necessarily, but by their listening!
Now, how do you kill gossip? How to listen to what other people say? Well, here's three things, and it will kill gossip dead. One: ask for the source of the information. Now you do this, if you've got the guts, and you need the guts to do it. Somebody starts relaying something to you, and you say: 'Hold on a wee minute, can I ask you where you got that information?'. Usually the reply will be: 'Oh, well, I couldn't tell you that! I received it in confidence, and I told them I wouldn't tell anybody who told me'. Yet in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 11 Paul said concerning the strife that was in Corinth: 'It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you'. He named the source of his information, so it wasn't gossip.
Something else you can do secondly is: ask permission to quote the person who is telling you it - that's a sure one to kill it in its tracks. 'Oh, no, no, no! Please don't do that, because that would be my friendship over with them! - if they were a friend, some friend! We're all doing this. Or, if those two things don't work, or you don't feel predisposed to do them: just don't listen! You can do that! Change the subject, or tell them that you're not going to listen to rubbish! Oh, dear, dear, dear, that's not very gracious, is it? That's rude, maybe - well, I ask you: what is more rude? What is more rude? William Marshall says that if nobody ever listened to gossip, if nobody listened to gossip, no one would ever tell it. Make the audience deaf, and you make the gossiper dumb - that's profound, and yet maybe that's where we are falling. He who speaks lies sows, but he who listens to them reaps - and that's often where the most trouble is done.
Do you know something: to turn a deaf ear is biblical, it is biblical. Psalm 38 verses 13 and 14, listen to it: 'But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs'. Did you ever think it a blessing to be deaf and dumb? Not literally, but spiritually, it is. I'll show you better than that - and it might surprise you - turn with me to Isaiah please, chapter 42. Now if you know anything about Isaiah, you'll know that he depicts the Servant of Jehovah, prophetically he's pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ - the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 is the Suffering Servant. Now here we have the Servant of the Lord again, so it's looking prophetically at Christ - chapter 42 verse 19 - now, look what it says about our Lord Jesus Christ, you never saw Him like this before: 'Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD'S servant?'.
Now the Lord is our example, we sang about that at the beginning of our meeting: He had no guile in His mouth. When He was reviled, bless His holy name, He reviled not again. 'Never man spake like this man', they said of Him - but when He was on the earth He turned a deaf ear to many a word. 'Who is blind, but my servant? Or deaf, as my messenger that I have sent?'. So the Lord Jesus resisted the temptation to hear that which He ought not to have heard, and I'm asking ourselves tonight: are we as deaf as the Lord Jesus?
That's only two: untrue words and worthless words - but quickly, and I'm going to race through these so follow with me: evil words, evil words. First Peter 3, look at it quickly, 1 Peter 3 verse 9 - untrue words, worthless words, evil words: 'Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord', that's the motivation for it, God sees the righteous, 'and his ears are open unto their prayers', and, indeed, all their words, 'but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil'. Evil words, have you ever heard a believer say: 'Ach, I gave them back as good as they gave me' - evil words. 'Ach, that's the only language they understand!' - evil words. You know, believers, we don't say the four letter words that the world does, but do you know what we do - and I am convicted of this - we substitute those words. We don't say, 'Oh my God', we say, 'Oh my gosh'. We don't say 'Jesus Christ' as an oath, we say 'Jeepers Creepers', or 'Crikey' - and that's a substitute. It's hard - you try and get yourself out of it, I'll tell you it's hard. 'My goodness', what goodness is there but God? Evil words.
Something else: unedifying words. Turn back to Ephesians 4 now, verse 29 again but the next part of it: 'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying' - so we are to edify. Now we saw last week from Philippians 4 that we are to think good thoughts. Now if we are to think good thoughts, and we communicate our thoughts with our words, that means we ought to speak good words - edifying words to build up, not to pull down. Are you speaking unedifying words?
What about inappropriate words? Another verbal sin, inappropriate words, is found in the last part of verse 29 here: 'To the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers' - another rendition of this puts it like this, 'According to the need of the moment'. To edify in your words is to speak according to the need of the moment. So often, we would say, we put our foot in it - open our mouth and put our foot in it - we say the wrong words at the wrong moment because we don't put our brain into gear, our mind before our mouth. Have you ever heard people say: 'I know exactly how you feel'? You don't know exactly how anybody feels, neither do I! 'Time heals', huh, time heals? Proverbs 25 and verse 11: 'A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver' - that's a great gift, but it's not really a gift, it's something we can get from God - to say the right thing at the right time, rather than the wrong thing at the wrong time. What about inappropriate words, inappropriate words - that's the same thing, really, isn't it?
Ungracious words, Colossians 4 and verse 6: 'Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man'. Are we ungracious in our words? It was said of the Lord Jesus: 'All bare witness of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth' - not sharp words, not cutting words, not cruelly sarcastic words. Our words, Colossians says, are to be seasoned with salt - you know what salt does? It hinders corruption, our conversation ought to hinder corruption, not help it in the minds of other people. Salt also makes you thirsty - and our conversation, our words, ought to make men and women and boys and girls thirsty for God, thirsty for Christ, thirsty for righteousness! So often there are ungracious words on our tongues.
Another one: impure words. Ephesians 5 this time, turn over to Ephesians 5 verses 3 to 4 - we're nearly finished, Ephesians 5:3-4: 'But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks'. Impure words: you see, the man whose heart cannot be pure has a tongue that cannot be clean. Do you see the connection? The more we as believers freely talk about sin, the more familiar we become with it, the less serious it seems to us, and we cease to be horrified with the things that we are continually talking about - and if we're ever mentioning sin, we should be mentioning it in such a light as to create a loathsomeness of it in the minds and hearts of other people. Impure words, let it not even be mentioned among you.
Irreverent words - yes, irreverent words in believers' mouths. Talking lightly, disrespectfully, of holy things. Making puns and jokes upon the Scriptures. Now there's a place for humour, and a lot of Christians could do with a good dose of it! But we must not be irreverent to God, to God's holy word, to sacred things. Irreverent words, and finally multiplied words - Proverbs 10:19: 'In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise'. The more we talk, the more we are prone to sin. It was Washington Irvine who said: 'The tongue is the only tool that grows sharper with constant use'. Do you know something? This might be news to some of us: you don't have to comment on everything! You don't have to have an opinion on everything! You don't have to always say your piece - Ecclesiastes 5 says: 'Let your words be few'. So, not only let your words be true, let your words be few!
Verbal sins: untrue words, double-tongued, broken promises, flattery, exaggeration, inaccuracy, embellishment, oaths, worthless words (including gossip), evil words, unedifying words, inappropriate words, ungracious words, impure words, irreverent words, multiplied words - is it any wonder that Jeremiah Burroughs, the puritan, in his book 'The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin', says: 'It is a rare thing to use the tongue well'. James teaches that loose tongues belong to loose people. Now listen carefully: he or she who is untrue, he or she who carries idle tales, he or she who speaks carelessly is not much use in the hand of God, but is of infinite use to the devil himself. Do you not exclaim with me, and with Isaiah the prophet: 'Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips' - and, oh to God that, like him, an angelic figure would take a bloodied coal from off the altar of Calvary's offering and touch my lips with holy fire, and cleanse me of this tongue of death. We cannot tame it, but God can by the power of the blood and by the unction of the Spirit!
Will we say to God tonight: 'Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips'? Will we take the power of Calvary and apply it to our words, and take control of our tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit, for 'the heart of the wise teaches his mouth'?
Let us pray. How are your words? Now listen: if there's a soul in this place tonight who doesn't think that any of this applies to them, my dear friend, you are deluded - absolutely, completely and utterly deluded! As the poet said:
'If your lips would keep from slips,
Five things observe with care:
To whom you speak, of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where'.
Are you convicted of those things? To whom you speak? Of whom you speak? And how, and when, and where? There's only one answer: your tongue must die with the rest of you, and get down before the cross. Reckon yourself dead with Christ and alive to God, and your speech will be transformed.
Oh God, oh God, I confess all of these sins tonight, every single one of them. I have been guilty of them all. Lord, there is so much of it that I can't even remember the half of it, or one percentage of it. But Lord, forgive - and Lord, may we not only have renewed minds in the inner man, but may we have renewed speech that expresses from our minds the thoughts of God after Him, rather than the thoughts of our old nature, or echoing, like parrots, the thoughts of the devil himself and spreading his lies and his kingdom. Lord, deliver us, Your people are overwrought by these sins! We can never have Your blessing if we are double-tongued and double-minded. Oh God, help us, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Lifeboat Mission in Moy, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his 'Sins We Have Sanitized' series, entitled "Verbal Sins" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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