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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Communication is God's good gift
Text:LD 43 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 9th Commandment (Lying)
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-07-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 145:1,2

Psalm 15

Psalm 141:1-4

Hymn 1

Psalm 23

Scripture readings:  1 Kings 22:1-28, Luke 4:16-30

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 43

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

This afternoon we’re learning about the Ninth Commandment.  It’s never difficult to find examples or illustrations of how this commandment is compromised.  Just watch or listen to the news and there’ll almost always be some news story that involves this commandment.  Oftentimes, the news stories come out of the world of politics.  One politician accuses another of lying.   So who are we to believe?  Who’s telling the truth in politics?  But we don’t have to go to Canberra to see that this world is plagued with sinful communication.  We see it around us and in our own lives too. 

You know, it hasn’t always been this way.  The Ninth Commandment is all about communication and how we use it.  Where does communication come from??  Ultimately, it comes from God, from the very character of God himself.  God is Triune.  There are three persons in the one true God.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit communicate with one another in this Triune relationship.  We see that revealed in Scripture already in Genesis 1.  When God created man, it says in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” and so on.  This shows us the Triune God communicating amongst the persons.  Since this Triune God is good, communication in itself is also a good thing. 

In fact, when the Triune God created Adam and Eve, he passed on to them this good gift of communication.  When Adam was created of dust from the ground, he was instantly able to use language.  God endowed him with that gift.  Adam didn’t have to learn how to speak – he came into the world as a communicator.  Even when there were no other humans around to hear him, Adam spoke.  At the end of Genesis 2, right before Eve was created, Adam is heard giving names to all the animals and birds.  Then Eve comes into existence, created from Adam’s rib, and Adam’s voice is heard again, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  Communication was a good gift of God that existed right from the very beginning.  In fact, it’s impossible to imagine a world without communication.

So this afternoon, I preach to you God’s Word as we see that communication is God’s good gift and he wants us to use it for his glory and the good of our neighbour.

We’ll consider this gift and its:

  1. Abuses
  2. Proper use

A moment ago, I mentioned Genesis 2 and we all know what comes after that.  In Genesis 3, communication breaks down.  The fall into sin involved communication.  It involved Satan who came and spoke to the woman.  He twisted God’s words and then denied them.  Satan is a liar and the father of lies.  His whole business is trafficking in lies.  It started right at the beginning.  He was the original first abuser of God’s good gift of communication. 

But Adam and Eve were not far behind him.  After they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they hid from God.  Yet God, in his mercy, still communicated with them.  This is an amazing thing, brothers and sisters.  By rights, the LORD could have outright killed them and sent them into eternal punishment.  By rights, he could have cut off communication with them forever.  However, he mercifully goes after them.  That reflects most admirably on our God, don’t you think?  We need to contrast that with the communication that comes from Adam and Eve at this moment.  What comes from them is blame-shifting and a refusal to take responsibility for their sin.  It’s a refusal to be honest and forthright about what’s happened.  Adam blames Eve (and God who gave him Eve) and Eve blames the serpent.  To love the truth and confess it honestly, Adam and Eve should have been heard echoing the words of David in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.”  That would have been honest communication.

The story from Genesis 3 onwards is more of the same.  Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, we see numerous examples of God’s good gift of communication being abused.  We see even his people refusing to honour him and use their words for the good of those around them.  A striking example of this is found in what we read from 1 Kings 22. 

This was in the days of Ahab, who was one of the wickedest kings Israel had ever known.  Ahab was on the throne in Samaria – he was the king of the northern kingdom of Israel.  In this time, there was also a southern kingdom of Judah and Jehoshaphat was the king there.  Jehoshaphat was a relatively good king.  These two kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat, decided to join forces to evict the Syrians from Ramoth-Gilead.  They each had an interest in sending the Syrians packing, because this city of Ramoth-Gilead was on an important trade route. 

Now Jehoshaphat was a far more devout and godly king than Ahab.  Jehoshaphat thought it would be good to find out what the LORD (Yahweh) thought of their plans.  How would you do that?  You ask the prophets.  So Ahab gathered some 400 prophets together.  They were all unanimous:  go and the LORD will bless your plans.  But Jehoshaphat was a bit suspicious of this.  Perhaps it was because he knew Ahab’s character.  He seemed to have suspected that these prophets were just what we call “yes-men.”  They were there to tell the king what he wanted to hear, whether it was true or false didn’t matter.  These prophets were people-pleasers, not truth-tellers.  In other words, they were flagrant abusers of God’s good gift of communication.  So Jehoshaphat asks, “Isn’t there another prophet?”  Notice how he just asks about one.  Isn’t there one prophet who will tell us the truth?  Sure enough, Ahab mentions Micaiah.  Ahab hated Micaiah.  Why?  Because he wasn’t a people-pleaser, but a truth-teller.  Micaiah didn’t tell Ahab just what he wanted to hear.  He spoke the truth from God, and because Ahab was a wicked king, God didn’t have anything good to say to him.  At Jehoshaphat’s insistence, they send for Micaiah.

While they’re waiting, a certain prophet named Zedekiah lied in the name of the LORD.  He even made a dramatic point by making some horns of iron.  He said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’”  Along with his lies came the blasphemy of God’s Name.  That’s an outrageous abuse of God’s good gift of communication.

When the messenger finally reaches Micaiah, he tells him to fall in line with the others.  “Micaiah, don’t speak the truth, just tell the king what he wants to hear.”  But notice how Micaiah responds, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.”  The prophet Micaiah is committed to being a truth-teller, no matter what the cost.

The prophet comes to the two kings and is asked whether they should go to battle.  It seems that God told Micaiah to first mock the lying prophets and mimic them.  He said he would only say and do what God told him to do, so that has to be our conclusion.  He first echoes the lying prophets and, probably in a mocking tone to make it clear that he wasn’t being serious.  This leads Ahab (of all people!) to insist that Micaiah speak the truth:  “Speak the truth, prophet of God!”  So Micaiah does and, as a result, he ends up in prison eating bread and drinking water.  That’s how a faithful prophet gets rewarded for carrying out his calling.  That’s what a faithful prophet gets for not abusing God’s good gift of communication.  He gets prison.

That passage is all about a battle – actually, it’s about two battles.  There’s the physical battle at Ramoth-Gilead.  But there’s also a spiritual battle being waged here between lies and the truth.  There are hundreds of lying prophets and one lone truth-telling prophet.  Hundreds of men who claim to be prophets of God are abusing his good gift of communication.  Instead, of seeking the LORD and his glory, they sought favour with Ahab.  Instead of looking out for the long-term good of their neighbours in the land, they looked to preserve their place with the king.  Now it’s true that it says in verse 23 that God put this lying spirit in the prophets.  What that means is that he had a purpose behind these lies.  If he wants to, God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick.  But that doesn’t take way the element of human responsibility here.  The prophets were people-pleasers all along and they were accountable for that.  Micaiah was a true prophet, he was a truth-teller all along. 

It’s easy to read a story like this and become self-righteous.  Look at these “prophets” and their lying and blasphemous ways.  Look at how they’re so geared to pleasing people.  We just look down our noses at these wicked men and maybe to ourselves, we’re thinking, “I would never do something like that.  That’s horrible.”  Loved ones, we need to quickly turn away from that proud kind of thinking.  The truth is all of us are inclined to abuse God’s good gift of communication.  Maybe we wouldn’t do it in the exact same way as seen in 1 Kings 22 or even close to that.  But we’re all quite creative when it comes to sinning and that includes sin against the Ninth Commandment. 

The abuse of this gift is such a pervasive problem for us that huge swaths of Scripture are taken up with addressing it.  The book of Proverbs, for instance.  Proverbs has verse after verse outlining both foolishness and wisdom when it comes to our communication.  Our Lord Jesus spoke often how about we ought to use our words.  The epistles of Paul have much to say about it.  We saw it in Colossians 3, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self…”  It’s elsewhere in the New Testament too.  Please turn with me to James 3 and let’s read verses 1-12.  Why is there so much in Scripture about communication?  Because we are so easily disposed to the sin of abusing this good gift.

The Catechism mentions some of the ways we do abuse this good gift of communication.  There’s outright lying, speaking words that are not true, and there’s deceit too.  But it goes further.  It includes false testimony about others and twisting words, making someone say something that they never intended to say.  There’s also gossip and slander.  Sometimes people will justify gossip by saying “But it’s true!” – as if speaking the truth about someone is all this commandment requires.  That would not only be a superficial reading of this commandment, but also a wrong one.  If our words are hurtful and destructive, even if they’re true we are abusing God’s good gift of communication.  We are then not speaking to his glory and for the good of those around us.  Last of all, the Catechism mentions that “we are not to condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard.”  Sometimes judgments are required to be made, but we must never rush to judgment without carefully considering every aspect of the matter. 

As we hear about all these different abuses and breaches of the Ninth Commandment, we know that we’ve failed.  I have and you have too.  Our communication has not always honoured God or served the benefit of our neighbour.  Let’s start by being honest about that.  We need to be honest in confession of our sin.  However, let’s also hear what the good God communicates to us in the gospel.  He says, “Yes, you have abused my good gifts.  You deserve eternal punishment for that.  But in my love, I give you a Saviour in Jesus Christ.  He died on the cross and when he did, he bore my wrath against all your sin.  He bore the punishment you deserve for having abused my good gift of communication.  Because of him, your sins are cleared away, they’re out of my sight.  You are forgiven.”  As we hear that good news, we’re called to embrace it and affirm it for ourselves, “Yes, I am fully forgiven my every sin, including my every abuse of God’s good gift of communication.  I am washed clean in the blood of Jesus.” 

Then we’re also called to turn away from all these abuses, hate them, fight against them, and pursue the proper use of God’s good gift of communication.  This begins by looking again at Jesus Christ and what he’s done for us.  We have a Saviour who was perfectly obedient to the Ninth Commandment.  He never abused any of God’s good gifts and always properly used them.  He was not only the master communicator, but also the most ethical.  Brothers and sisters, his entirely ethical obedience is credited to your account with God.   As you trust in Christ, God looks at you not only as someone who is forgiven, but also as someone who has a full account of perfect obedience.  God looks at you through the lens of Jesus and he sees someone who is always properly using this good gift for his glory and for the good of your neighbour.  The gospel promises you this. 

And the gospel then also leads you onward to live in union with this perfect Saviour.  The gospel leads to a life being transformed by the Holy Spirit who lives both in you and in Jesus, connecting the two of you.  The result is that what’s true of Christ is becoming increasingly true of you.  And you see this also in the proper use of communication.  Let’s look at two areas in particular: evangelism and encouragement.                                      

In Luke 4, our Lord Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry.  His calling involved communication.  He was a prophet and preacher.  He used words to bring good news to sinners.  In our reading from Luke 4, he starts where he grew up, in Nazareth.  He first read from Isaiah 61 and then he announced that these words were fulfilled in him.  He was the one Isaiah was speaking about, the one who had come with good news for the poor, liberty for the captives and oppressed, and sight for the blind.  Isaiah spoke of the “year of the Lord’s favour.”  That was a reference to the Year of Jubilee mentioned in Leviticus 25.  Jesus said that he is the fulfillment of that special year where slaves or servants were to be set free.  Our Saviour spoke truthful and gracious words in the Nazareth synagogue, words which brought good news to the people.  They didn’t receive him the way they should have, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he did what he was called to do.  He was appointed a preacher of good news and this is exactly what he did – he preached. 

Now remember that we’re united to this Saviour.  Remember too that because we have his Spirit, we share in his anointing.  In this passage, he was acting as a prophet, proclaiming good news.  We share in his anointing as a prophet.  We too are prophets, called to confess his Name.  We’re called to use our words to share the good news with whomever we can.  That would be a proper use of God’s good gift of communication, a proper use that brings him glory and serves the good of those around us.

In other words, the Ninth Commandment leads us to speak the truth of the gospel.  The Catechism rightly says that we are to love the truth and confess it honestly.  That has to include the truth that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners.  Our Christian obedience to the Ninth Commandment includes praying for, looking for, and seizing opportunities to speak the truth about who Jesus Christ is and what his gospel is. 

There once was this young man.  He grew up in a Canadian Reformed Church and went to a Canadian Reformed school.  He worked in a restaurant with people who were mostly unbelievers.  When they would ask where he went to school, he would simply say, “A private school.”  You see, that sounded better than, “A Christian school.”  If he said, “A Christian school,” people would think he’s religious or something and they might ask more questions.  One day his English teacher at the Christian school gave him an assignment to write a book review.  Rather than read the book, he decided to rent the movie.  He thought he was pretty smart and when he was renting the movie he bragged to the guy at the store about what he was doing.  The guy asked him what school he went to.  He lied and told him that he went to the local public school.  You see, he was ashamed to admit he went to a Christian school, ashamed to have anything to do with Christ and his church as well.  How foolish he was and how afraid of what others might think.  These were potential opportunities to speak the truth of the gospel -- lost opportunities to properly use God’s good gift of communication.   Loved ones, and also you young people, listen carefully:  when these opportunities come your way, when God gives you open doors to speak about who you are and what you believe, don’t run away in fear, but walk through in faith.  Ask God to give you the strength and courage to properly use his good gifts, so that the gospel spreads for his glory and for the good of your neighbour.  Think of what Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes….”  Our Saviour was not ashamed to speak, and we who are united to this Saviour, we should be never be ashamed either. 

Our Saviour also properly used the good gift of communication to encourage others.  There are numerous examples of that in the gospels.  Just to take one, in Mark 2 there’s that remarkable story of the paralytic being let down into the house where Jesus was preaching.  The paralytics’ friends take the roof apart and let down the bed, dropping the paralytic right at Jesus’ feet.  What is the first thing that Jesus says to the paralytic?  He says the most encouraging words that anyone could ever hope to hear from the Saviour, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  The paralytic has a problem:  he can’t walk.  But that’s not his greatest problem.  His greatest problem is that he’s a sinner, and Jesus deals with that first and foremost.  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Talk about encouragement!   What a blessing it must have been for the man to hear those words from Christ himself.  Our Saviour did that so often.  He encouraged people with the forgiveness of sins, with the hope of the resurrection, with the promises of future glory, and more.  He was an encourager, a comforter.  In fact, in John 14 when he promises the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, he says that the Spirit will be another comforter or encourager or helper.  With that, he implies that he also is such a comforter or encourager.  He used the good gift of communication to carry out that comforting and encouraging.

We’re united to this Saviour.  He’s an encourager.  His Spirit is an encourager.  How could we not also be growing as encouragers?  What does it mean to be an encourager?  We use our words for building people up.  We use our words to “defend and promote our neighbour’s honour and reputation.”  In the words of Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” 

There are different areas of life where we can use the good gift of communication for encouraging.  For example, we can encourage in our families, building up our children, our siblings, or our parents.  If there’s something nice and positive to say, don’t hold it back.  Say it!  We can encourage in our church family as well.  If someone has done something worthy of praise, something good and helpful, give them a pat on the back.  Don’t hold back.  If you have the opportunity to encourage someone somehow, ask yourself:  what does it look like to be united to Christ here?  Would he encourage this person?  You know the answer, so do it.  Be an encourager, someone who builds up for the good of your neighbour and the glory of God. 

Loved ones, this commandment comes down to integrity and Christ-likeness in all our communication.  We want the world to see that we belong to Jesus Christ.  He is our Lord and we reflect him in what we don’t do and also in what we do do.   In everything, our desire is to please the Lord and honour him with our lives, including all our words.  The world is full of lies and a lack of integrity when it comes to communication.  God’s good gift has been vandalized and abused in all sorts of ways.  But as those redeemed by Christ, we want to pursue a different path.  We do that because we know that the path of living in union with Christ does ultimately bring glory to God and really does serve the good of those around us.  AMEN.    

PRAYER:

Father in heaven, God of truth,

Thank you for your good gift of communication.  Thank you that we have language and a way to speak with you and with one another.  Father, we have to confess that we have often abused your good gift in different ways.  We have sometimes used this gift to tear down our neighbour, and we know that in doing that, we have torn down someone made in your image.  Please forgive us through our Saviour Jesus.  Please wash us in his pure blood.  Please also fill us with his Spirit and unite us more to him.  Help us Father so that we do properly use your gift of communication.  We ask for your help in sharing the truth of the gospel.  Please give us not only open doors for the gospel, but also courage to speak.  Father, please also make us encouragers.  Guide and help us with your Spirit so that our communication would build others up, rather than tear them down.  We want to do this because we love the people around us, but also most importantly, we are zealous for your glory.  We want to see your Name praised more and more.            




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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