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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Use Your Words Wisely
Text:LD 43 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 9th Commandment (Lying)
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-09-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 33:1,2                                                                                  

Hy 37:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Proverbs 12                                                                               

Ps 141:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 43

Ps 139:1,2,13

Ps 34:1,5

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


Beloved congregation, did you know that you have a great power at your disposal? You have access to a tool that can do wonderful good, and also terrible harm. It’s simple to use, this mighty instrument. What is it? It’s your mouth, and the words that fill your mouth. Yes, there’s a great power, situated right underneath our nose. From the mouth we can spew out evil so quickly, so cruelly. And with our mouth we can dispense things like truth, love and peace.

Like anything that has the potential to be used for serious good or harm, we need to know how to handle it. Take electricity as an example; the electricity running through those wires in your home can be employed for a lot of fine and beneficial purposes: like cooking, lighting, and cooling. But when it’s not harnessed properly or used carefully, electricity has a fearful power: to burn and shock and kill. Likewise, we need to harness the potential energy of our mouth, and make sure that we use it for God’s glory.

This is the reason that Solomon has a lot to say about our words. In many places in Proverbs, he gives instruction to his son on this matter. And we’ll notice that much of it has a tone of rebuke and admonition. He warns against boasting, gossiping, and pointless arguing. He condemns revealing secrets and spreading slander. He forbids speaking in anger, speaking at the wrong moment, and promising more than we can deliver.

But there’s more to say. For Solomon also has an appreciation for words and speech. He was king of Israel, after all; from day to day he was involved in giving advice to his governors, making judgments for the people, and teaching wisdom. He knew the great and good effect that our mouths can have! So in Proverbs he also shows how words have the power of life—words have that good ability, when they’re found in the mouth of a person who loves and fears God.

Consider our theme verse for this sermon: “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health” (12:18). Many of the proverbs have a parallel structure like this one. In one part they describe the way of sin and folly, in the other part they explain the righteous way of wisdom. For there’s only two paths of life available to take, a choice for God’s way, or the devil’s. This is true for the ninth commandment too, which I preach to you from Lord’s Day 43,

Use your words with wisdom, not foolishness:

  1. there is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword
  2. but the tongue of the wise promotes health

 

1) there is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword: Before we consider God’s will for our daily speaking, we should remember how this commandment has a legal background. The ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exod 20:16). The Catechism echoes that in the first line of its explanation: “I must not give false testimony against anyone” (Q&A 112).

“Bearing witness” and “giving testimony” brings us into the courtroom. Back in Israel, there was a basic court system in the gates of every city. This is where legal cases could be heard. And in these settings, the testimony of a witness was absolutely crucial. Nowadays there’s a lot of concern that anyone accused of a crime gets a proper defense; this is why the courts will even provide a lawyer for someone who can’t afford it. In Israel, however, there were no lawyers; a case would often stand or fall on the testimony of a witness alone. What they said carried the day! So if justice was to be done, their words had to be free from all bias and deception. Simply put, a witness had to speak the truth.

This is why when there was potential for the death penalty to be applied, not one witness was needed but two. You had to be really sure of what you were going to say, because these words had literally the power of life or death! This is why the LORD commands severe penalties for those who lied in court. Think of Proverbs 21:28, “A false witness shall perish.” God has little patience for those who spread lies.

That’s the legal background to the 9th commandment, but perhaps it makes you wonder: In our speaking, is there still so much at stake? We’ll probably never have to testify in court, and most of our words are pretty routine: normal conversations at school, chatting with our friends and discussing with co-workers. Is God concerned about all these words too?

By now we’ve learned that God’s law expresses God’s character: God commands what He values himself! For example, He is pure, so He demands our purity. In relation to the ninth commandment, we can say that God is a God of truth, in whom there is no deceit. His Son called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus came to destroy Satan, who is called the Father of Lies. So if we’ll live in the fear of God—if our character is shaped by his character—then for us the truth must be critically important!

So while the Catechism mentions “false testimony,” it goes on to say that “in court and everywhere else, I must love the truth…” (Q&A 112). That second phrase takes us out of the courtroom, and onto the school playground, and the church parking lot, and into the home, and the office and the jobsite. It takes us into the world of technology and social media, where so many stories are told and words are shared. “Everywhere” we go, in every conversation, we must be concerned about the truth, and the honour of our neighbour.

That’s a key point, because we sometimes have a “situational” approach to the truth. What I mean is: things we wouldn’t dream of saying at a meeting, or at a homevisit, or in a circle of friends after church, we feel free to say at other times. Maybe it’s a phone call to a friend, or in a text message, or a private conversation—and suddenly we have less regard for the truth or for Christian love. The anger and cruelty and judgmentalism can come gushing out of our mouth. If you ever hear yourself saying, “Just between you and me…,” it may well be time to stop that conversation.

“In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth.”  Because for God, there’s no separation between our public and our private life. Think of that Proverb in 15:3, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” We can rephrase that verse in connection with the ninth commandment, “The ears of the LORD are in every place, listening in on the evil and the good.”

Solomon also shows how this law applies broadly. In 4:24 he teaches his son, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you.” For it’s so easy to lie and to twist the truth. We sometimes say that politicians are “masters of spin,” because they know how to spin any story in the right direction, according to their own interests. By spinning it, a bad story becomes a little less bad, a good story becomes even better. Words get manipulated, truth becomes manufactured. Don’t we do the same? We want to make ourselves sound better, or look better. Do you ever use words to inflate our own accomplishments? To make excuses, or to deflect blame to others? Have you ever said what someone wanted to hear, not because you’re so sensitive, but because you didn’t want trouble, or because you had your own aims?

Twisting the truth like this gets close to the heart of our sinful nature, because it’s all about promoting ourselves. Notice the Catechism says that lying is “the devil’s own [work]” (Q&A 112). This has always been an area where Satan excels. And it’s often what we sinners do best. But then a reminder from Proverbs of what God values: “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, those who deal truthfully are His delight” (12:22).

Now, even when something is true, we can have a hard time handling it. Doesn’t a lot of gossip get shared with the claim that we have it from a reliable source, or on good authority? We say, “She really did do that—I’m just passing it along.” Solomon understands that we take a perverse delight in these things. He writes in 26:22, “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.” We’ve got an appetite for nasty words. If someone’s talking about the faults of another, revealing a painful rumour, sharing an embarrassing story about someone, we eat it up. These morsels go down like double-chocolate cheesecake—and they’re just as bad for you.

When it comes to gossip, just because an observation or statement is true doesn’t mean it must be shared. Consider 11:13, “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” Sometimes we have to know when to be quiet. We should ask: “Will sharing this story promote love? Will voicing my criticism or negative comments really be helpful here? Is what I’m going to say, or type, or post, likely to bring honour to the LORD? Or will it hurt?” Sometimes it’s better to conceal a matter.

Let’s return to our theme verse: “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword” (12:18). That’s pretty graphic: hasty words can be harmful. We can cut someone with them: pierce a brother with a personal insult, slam a child with an angry outburst, tear down another believer with gossip. With words we can leave a person wounded, their reputation in tatters, their spirit broken. The God of life warns us that we can do violence through our careless words. This should make us pause, make us slow to speak.

Another Proverb gives instruction here, in 10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Did you notice that connection? The more we say, the more likely we are to sin. That’s not always true, of course—but don’t we love to hear ourselves talk? And if we keep talking, isn’t it likely that we’ll begin to stretch the truth, or reveal what should be hidden, or say something foolish?

Other times we talk a lot, but accomplish nothing. Solomon knows this, and he teaches that words are no substitute for deeds, “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty” (14:23). Idle chatter is when we make big commitments, talk up our plans and boast in ourselves, but we don’t follow through or back it up with our hard work. But fearing God calls us to follow up our words with action. That’s what God does, after all: He speaks, and then acts.

We could go on for a long time with sins against the ninth commandment, but just one more proverb. We sometimes mislead others about our real condition: “Like a coating of glaze over earthenware, are fervent lips with an evil heart” (26:23, NIV). That’s about having a fine exterior, but trouble within. Few like to admit that there’s a problem. It’s painful or embarrassing to acknowledge a personal failing. So we use words to pretend that everything’s just fine. Talking to our parents, or fellow church members, our elders or our spouse, we put on a “coating of glaze,” a respectable veneer: “It’s not a big deal. I can handle it. Never been better, actually!”

But God commands us to address the problems that lie between us, and also to confess the sins that trouble us. This is God’s wisdom, because things can become much worse if they’re left untreated. Let your words reflect what’s really in your heart. Then your heart will be open to God’s healing Word!

So what’s the remedy for things like gossip, twisting words, angry reactions, and more? See 13:3, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” In that verse he compares holy speaking to guarding a city. Solomon knew a thing or two about that: if you’re going to fend off enemy attackers, you need to keep constant watch at the gates. But if you leave the gates unprotected—if you let your mouth fall open and say anything—then it’ll soon be captured by the “father of lies.” Guard the mouth like a doorway to your heart: think before you speak; pray over your words; let the fear of God shape your speech.

It’s what the Spirit teaches in 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” That’s a great power, isn’t it, for such a humble instrument? Life and death! Take note of it, beloved: What effect do your words have? Are they for life, or for death? How do they impact other people? We’ve seen a lot of death so far; now it’s time to consider life. That’s the other side of our verse: “the tongue of the wise promotes health.”

           

2) but the tongue of the wise promotes health: If we return to the legal context of this commandment, we see that it’s vital to speak the truth. Like Solomon says in 14:25, “A true witness delivers souls.” When a person speaks the truth and promotes justice, it’s not just right—it’s beneficial. He saves souls! True words have the power to defend and deliver.

Recall that line from the Catechism, “In court, and everywhere else, I must love the truth.” In the first place, a love for the truth means a hatred for what is false. As Solomon says in 13:5, “A righteous man hates lying.” That’s pretty strong—he hates it! And why should we hate all deception and dishonesty? Because that’s how God looks at lying. Speaking in the fear of God means not letting a single word of deceit cross our lips, or cross our fingertips. Part of that is never listening to rumour or hearsay. We all love a good rumour, but we must seek to hear the whole story before making our judgment. This is a godly way to honour the truth.

More than that, God calls us to spread the truth for good causes; the Catechism teaches we are to “speak and confess it honestly” (Q&A 112). Let’s recognize the positive power that our words can have, that “the tongue of the wise promotes health” (12:18). Normally we connect our health to eating right and exercising regularly, but Solomon says a wise tongue is healthy. For a wise tongue can do a world of good. Instead of stabbing and piercing and wounding with our sharp words, we can comfort people, teach them, and restore.

What are examples of this? Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Picture yourself in a situation where someone is becoming hot under the collar: maybe a customer, a fellow church member, one of your family—and you’re the target of the wrath. Solomon is right: you feel like spitting out harshly in response, words with a bit of edge. But of course it won’t settle the situation. “A soft answer turns away wrath.” You ask for clarification. You look for the common ground, you speak with grace—that’s the soft answer.

Like Solomon also taught about the sixth commandment in 17:14, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.” The floodgates of an argument don’t take much to open, so consider if it’s really something worth fighting about. Sometimes it is. But we should know the tendency of our own hearts: that we tend to major on the minors, and hold onto grudges, and that we love few things more than being right. We can be so right sometimes, that we’re actually wrong—wrong because the way that we’ve pushed and argued has shown so little Christ-like love.

Solomon uses a different image in 26:20, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” Take out the gossip and rumour, remove the accusation or suspicion, dial down the hostility—and strife will have much less fuel for the fire.

Instead, be a blessing and benefit with your words! Speak to each other in order to have that healthy influence. Like in 25:15, “By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” Solomon mentions a broken bone, but make no mistake, he’s still talking about healing. Sometimes to set someone straight or to break resistance, we need to speak in rebuke, offer a challenge, point to the need for change. Receiving an admonition can still be painful—like getting a broken bone—but a gentle word can actually bring restoration.

That brings us to another key idea in this commandment, that we should strive to speak to others with God’s wisdom. Solomon teaches in 15:23, “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” To speak in “due season” means thinking carefully about the other person, their circumstances, their struggles, their needs—and then responding.

We’ve already mentioned admonitions, but there’s so many healthy uses for God’s gift of the mouth. Encourage someone who is serving well in the church. Give counsel to a person who is confused or uncertain. Share your insights into the Scriptures. With our words, we can pray for each other, and we can sing together. We can build each other up in the difficult times of life. Like in 12:25, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.”

Maybe you know this from your own experience: that the right word, at the right time, can bring great benefit. You can be in a meeting, on a visit, or even in a conflict, when someone speaks, and at once you know it’s right, that it’s true, and helpful. Or you can be listening to a sermon, or a speech, and a few simple phrases enter your heart and mind like they were meant just for you. That’s the God-given power of our words. Or you can be having a conversation where you’re trying to offer comfort, or instruction, or correction, and there’s just a handful of sincere words that make all the difference. They suddenly put things in perspective; they bring cheer; they make peace.

As Solomon says, we should be glad when we’ve helped someone with our words: “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth.” More importantly, we can make others glad. And most importantly, we can make God glad. This is the power of our words, that we can do a lot with even a little! So as Christians, we should try to be deliberate about this kind of speaking. Instead of saying a whole lot of superficial words and hoping that some land on target, think carefully about what words would be best.

It’s true, we don’t always know what to say, or how to answer. Usually I only think of it a couple hours later, when the moment has passed. But Solomon has wisdom about us, when he says in 15:28, “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer.” That’s right: we can train ourselves to speak properly! Good words can always be spoken if we return to God, and his truth. The Scriptures give you things to say to your brother in his time of anxiety, or to your sister as she searches for God’s will. The Scriptures give you something to say as advice about parenting, or about temptation, or about being a good steward. Know the Word, and then share the Word.

This kind of speech is so highly valued that Solomon compares it to a great treasure in 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” A word at just the right time, with just the right emphasis, is a precious gift—precious for the effect it can have. Or again in 16:24, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Instead of the greasy morsels of gossip that are no good for you or for anybody else, why not some words of honey, some pleasant words—some gospel words?

Here we can think about how Jesus our Saviour spoke. When we look at his ministry, He always spoke fitting words, at fitting times. He knew when to be quiet; He knew when to be direct; and He always spoke the truth. Even when He was slandered and abused and falsely accused, He spoke in gentleness. God’s truth was on his lips: words that honoured the LORD and pointed to the LORD.

These gracious words of Christ can change us from the inside out. For we often sin against the ninth commandment, intentionally and unintentionally. Speaking with wisdom doesn’t come naturally to us. But in Christ we have the full forgiveness of every careless word. And in Christ we know the better way: we can follow his way of holy speaking, and can we can echo his words of life and truth and wisdom.

No, we can’t always talk theology. We can’t fill our daily speech with quotations from Scripture. But what we can do is let our words be shaped by the Word of God. In our tone and direction and emphasis, let’s speak God’s truth. Let’s talk about what is important to the LORD. Let’s react to sin and anger and falsehood in the way that Christ would react. Let’s speak in love, as God always does.

In our mouth, God has given us an instrument that has great potential. Satan wants to hijack it for himself, to inflict the piercings of a sword on many. With our mouth, he wants to ruin and destroy. But with the blessing of God’s Spirit, and with the shaping of God’s Word, our words can be used to promote health, and life, and peace. May the Almighty God help us in this daily activity, for the glory of his Name.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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