Over the last two sessions we’ve heard about how God deserves the praise that we offer, that our whole life is meant to praise Him because it is due to Him. But, like we saw in the first session, we don’t always feel like praising God and it’s more likely that it’s difficult to praise God freely even when we feel like we have reason to.
Our tongue does more than simply reflect the disposition of our heart; it also guides and orients our life in a particular direction. Scripture tells us that our tongues are not just output devices of our hearts but have the power to affect and change the reality of our lives by what we confess with faith.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Saint James writes about the deadly challenges that we face with the tongue
“And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue – a restless evil full of deadly poison.”
Our sense that our praise is not an overflow of our hearts may be a sign that perhaps our hearts are divided. Even the lack of experience of the power of praise begs the question: How have we used our tongue?
“With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.”
The Sins of our Tongue
If we take a close look at our lives and examine our speech, more often than not; whether intentionally or unintentionally, our speech is used not only to narrate the incidents of our lives; but to provide perspective on everything and everyone else involved.
The perspective we provide is most often favorable to us, or those in our “camp” and unfavorable to the “outsider”. Much of what we speak paints not just the unbiased truth about ourselves but also presents a colored, highly opinionated, and a certain amount of distortion of another’s nature or character. Be it when we are talking to the person concerned or talking about another person. Many times even when we are speaking about ourselves, we speak in comparison with others to bring to light certain qualities of ours.
Our speech is guilty is of
- Cursing – calling upon a supernatural power to bring harm on another (Ex 21:17, 22:28; Lev 19:14)
- Reviling – Insulting and hurling verbal abuse at another (Ex 22:28; 1Cor 5:11, 6:9-10)
- Guile – using misleading or deceitful words to hide malicious intention (Ps 10:7, 52:1-4, 101:5,7; Rom 1:29-31; 1 Pt 2:1, 2:22-23, 3:9-10)
- False Witness – Testifying falsely in a court of law to another’s harm (Ex 20:16; Prov 19:5,9, 25:18)
- Slander – speaking evil of another, usually to third parties (Ex 23:1-3, Lev 19:16; Num 12:1-3,8; Jas 4:11-12; 1 Pt 2:1)
Let’s look at Reviling and Slandering detail:
- Many times we excuse ourselves when we curse or shout out in anger, saying that it was just in the heat of the moment that our outburst was caused by someone else’s behavior (road rage or in the heat of an argument). Scripture teaches us that whatever our emotions, we are called to be in control of our senses and take responsibility for our actions.
- 1 Cor 6:10 suggests that there is no place in the kingdom of heaven for revilers (for those who use filthy language, who react out of anger).
- But for many, it has become a habit. We have been doing it for so many years that even if we don’t speak it out loud, it rises up in our minds in various situations.
- Reviling comes out of a lack of control of a situation where our helplessness to change another is expressed as a desperate attempt to tear someone down who appears to have the upper hand.
- In moments like this, our attention must be turned to the truth that God is our defender and refuge. He will vindicate our cause in His time. But if we take things into our own hands and attempt to silence another, we run the risk of offending God by denying the dignity and worth he has afforded another. We need to attempt to calm a situation down by dealing with the facts and being honest about them and refraining from accusing or imposing our own expectations on another.
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one law giver and judge, the one who is able to save and destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?”
- When we speak against a brother, we assume a position of authority over him, a position in which one has the right to evaluate and render an authoritative verdict of his conduct.
- When we take this position in relation to a brother when God has not given us the authority to do so, we find ourselves in precarious position of judging and speaking against God who has instituted the law.
- When God does give us the authority to act as a judge, we must act with grace, love and concern for others, but also with strength and firmness.
- Many of us yield to the impulse of speaking against others. We have resentments and complaints that have piled up and it seems we are finally able to give vent to it. If spoken without the intention to seek help to change our attitude, it only make the problem seem larger than it is.
”And if your brother sins; go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.”
Our aim is to win our brother back rather than lose him.
- If we cannot go directly to the person, we must take the matter to an appropriate authority and leave it to their discretion.
- If that too is not possible, we must learn to live with it. We are still not at liberty to speak about it at will; since to speak to others about someone’s sin is slander.
- Simple ways to avoid becoming party to slander:
- Prov 11:9 –
“Do not argue about a matter which does not concern you, nor sit with sinners when they judge a case.”
- Before listening to someone’s report/ account ask:
What is your reason for telling me?
Have you gone directly to those involved?
Can I quote you if I check this out?
- Prov 11:9 –
Remember: Prov 11:12-13
“He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden.”
What are our Tongues meant for?
We have seen our failure to use our tongue in a way that glorifies God and we know that we have failed because the intention of our heart has not been right. We shall now look at what the purpose of our tongue and our speech, as God intended:
- Ephesians 4:29
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such that is good for edifying, as fits the occasion that it may impart grace to those who hear.“
- And in Psalm 51:15
“O Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.“
As far as people (our neighbor) go, our speech must edify and as concerns God, it must show forth His praise. The goal of our speech is EDIFICATION.
- To edify comes from the word edifice – to build. Our speech must build up another. Does it? Our recounting of details, situations and people’s behavior – does it edify the hearer? How do we edify the hearer? It may seem like we have been using our tongue for purposes completely contrary to what God had intended, and so the letter of James advises us to bridle our tongues to ensure that we are living out our faith:
James 1:26 –
“If anyone thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is in vain.”
Ps 141:3 –
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord keep a watch over the door of my lips!“
- Bridling our tongue is a perfect analogy for what must be done to our tongues. If our tongues are to be fruitful for God, then we must gain firm control over it, and learn what God wants us to accomplish through it and acquire practical knowledge to live it out.
- Bridling our tongues does mean restraint but it also helps steer one in a particular direction. What direction are we heading toward? What do we do to persist in that direction?
A Tongue that blesses our Neighbor
Expressing praise and affection:
- Most of us find it difficult to express genuine affection and praise of others because of their diligence, virtue or ability unless we have consciously cultivated the habit.
- Many of us believe that expressing praise and affection will puff up a person with pride and so it is better to refrain from acknowledging their goodness.
- However, St. Paul in his letters deals with those he is pastoring with a contrary logic. His first words encourage and build them up as seen in his letters to the Corinthians, Romans, Thessalonians, Philippians etc. (Rom 1:8, 15:14; 1 Cor 1:4-7a; 1 Thes 4:9-10a; Phil 1:7-8, 4:1; 2 Cor 7:3b-4). He first praises them for how they have received and persevered in the faith and then goes on to deal with other aspects of their conduct.
- Praising people directly and before others is to bless them with a valuable gift.
Correcting with Meekness:
“Brethren if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
- Our speech does not necessarily need to always have a positive/feel good tone to it. While we build up we are called to take responsibility for our brothers and sisters with seriousness.
- St. Paul, in his letter reemphasizes that correction should be given gently not be heavy handed, or arrogant but given with humility and self-control – always looking for the good of the person being corrected.
- Even if severity is required, we should be free of concern about what others will think or from our fleshly anger and self-will.
- In the same way that we build another up with encouragement and appreciation, we are called to build each other up with correction administered at the right time, and in the right manner.
Communicating Faith and Joy:
- If our speech is negative and filled with discouragement and anxiety, we will contribute to the destruction of faith and joy in our listeners.
- Grumbling, discouraging words do not impart grace and so have no place in speech patterns of those working to build the kingdom of God
- Take the example of Joshua, Caleb and the Israelite spies who went to check Canaan out from Numbers 13:25ff.
Out of the 12 spies 10 of them come back with a great report about the land but focus on the impossibility of conquering it because of the inhabitants. This is after God had spoken to them and promised the land to them. Their purpose in going there was to figure out how to get in not check the feasibility of conquering it.
Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who came back with a report that had the promised of God as their context and the reality of the land in that perspective.
The people were so discouraged that they contemplated going back into Egypt again!
In the 14th chapter, we see God growing upset with the people because they do not see through the eyes of faith but rather with the eyes of unbelief and so draw others into the same mire.
- The challenges we face differ from what the Israelites were dealing with but our response still needs to be that of courage and faith.
- The Lord wants us to break free from the old nature and put on the new nature
Colossians 3:10 –
“and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his Creator.”
- Words of faith can dispel anxiety and words of encouragement can overcome despair.
- While it is fine to discuss what’s happening, we need to learn how to have conversations in a way that expresses faith, hope and joy.
A Tongue that blesses God
We have already looked at giving praise and thanks to God in great depth. Apart from making a sacrifice of praise directly to God we can make a sacrifice of praise by using our tongue for the glory of God. In addition to praise and thanksgiving, we are invited to practice:
- Calling upon the Lord
- Proclaiming Gods glory to others
- Confessing Jesus
Calling upon the Lord
- Another way of giving glory to God with our speech is to call upon his help in times of special need.
- Calling on the Lord’s help glorifies him because it acknowledges him as the generous source of our protection, provision and sustenance.
- It is possible to call upon the Lord out of our difficulty and not glorify him but whine and complain, out of anxiety… However a humble petition comes before God as a pleasing sacrifice.
- We show our confidence in the Lord when we look to him and call upon his aid with childlike trust,
Hear my cry , O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge a strong tower against the enemy.
I call upon the Lord; make haste to me! Give ear to my voice, when I call to thee! Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!
Proclaiming God’s gifts to others
- While speaking to others about God is up building; that is not the only purpose that we proclaim His deeds. To speak of His glory honors Him.
- Proclaiming the deeds of God is integral to our lives as Christians:
1 Peter 2:9 –
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds to Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
- Our lives have been the stage for God to manifest Himself, and show himself as the Lord of all, time and again. We are called to testify and give him the glory, not just for historical accounts but also for what He has done in the smallness of our lives.
- What makes our community different is that out of our brokenness God makes himself present and we experience and share that. We are called to share how the word is becoming flesh in our lives and give glory to God because of it.
- In times of trial and persecution, no matter how great or small, we are called to be faithful to the one who has called us out of darkness and cleared the path for us to inherit eternal life.
- It is easy to confess Jesus when we are in the midst of people who believe and feel called to a similar lifestyle as us. But what happens when we are in the midst of those who are hostile to the Gospel?
- The ultimate confession is martyrdom; which in Greek means testimony or witness.
- This is not something that we do every day, but as part of discipleship Jesus declares:
Mt 10:32-33 – “So everyone who acknowledges before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven’; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
If we acknowledge loyally before men that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, irrespective of the consequences and undaunted by the cost, then Jesus will acknowledge before all t of heaven that we are his faithful disciples and servants.
- St. Polycarp:
St Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor was sent before the proconsul in the arena and pressed to deny the Lord Jesus:
The Governor told him, “Take the oath, and I will let you go,” He said, “Revile your Christ.” Polycarp’s reply was, “Eighty six years have I served him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”
He died as he had lived – in fidelity to the one who had first died for him.
Though we may not face situations that cost us our lives, we do have the opportunity to stand firm in the arenas that cost us a loss of acceptance, respect or position. If we are living for the glory of God, our lips will confess Jesus in the day of our testing.
Life and death are in the power of the tongue – Prov 18:21. Our tongue is most often used as an instrument of destruction but we are called to use it for the Glory of God.
- In dealing with our neighbor, we are called to refrain from: cursing, guile, false witness and most importantly from slandering and reviling. We can use our tongue to edify by: expressing praise and affection, correcting with meekness and communicating faith and joy.
- Apart from praise and thanksgiving, we can offer God a sacrifice of praise by calling upon the Lord out of trust, declaring the deeds of the Lord and confessing Jesus.