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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:Be imitators of God and Speak like Him!
Text:LD 43 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 9th Commandment (Lying)
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-03-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 33:1                                                                                            

Ps 33:6  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Numbers 23:13-26; 1 Peter 4:7-11

Ps 141:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 43

Ps 19:3,6

Hy 53:1,2,3,4

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


Beloved in Christ, back when I was in Grade 6 and 7, we had to do lessons from a little booklet called Words are Important. We didn’t enjoy those lessons, because it was all about using new vocabulary and spelling difficult words like “occasion” and “liaison” and “vacuum.” But it’s true: words are important! They have an impact.

For instance, we often use words to make ourselves sound better and to make others look bad. God knows the negative power of words every time we open our mouth, and that’s why the Lord gave us the ninth commandment. But God also knows the positive potential for our speech.

And God himself demonstrates what wonders words can accomplish! For our God is a speaking God. Open the Scriptures to just about anywhere, and God is speaking. There are many passages where God talks directly: to Adam and Eve, or Abraham or Moses, Ezekiel or Paul. He also speaks through his messengers, the prophets and apostles. Even when it doesn’t explicitly say, “Thus says the Lord”—even then, God is speaking. For all of Scripture is God-breathed.

And God shows us how it’s done: He shows us how to speak. Like He does in every commandment, here the God of love, holiness and truth sets the perfect standard. He tells us that in our speaking, we must not do “the devil’s own works” (Q&A 112). For Satan is the father of lies, and deception is his native language.

Don’t go to Satan as your language tutor! But go to the God of all truth! This is what Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God as dear children.” Peter adds to that when he writes, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Pet 4:11). So this is our theme from Lord’s Day 43,

Be imitators of God and speak like Him!

  1. speaking in love
  2. speaking in truth

 

1) let us speak like our God, in love: “God is love,” John tells us in his first letter. There’s a lot you could say about those three words, but we’ll say just this: “God is love” means that love is always the motive behind what God does. He shows love. He exudes love. Love is essential to God’s being, so it is constantly being expressed.

So also when God speaks to his covenant people, He is doing so in love. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” our Lord Jesus once said (Matt 12:34). That’s certainly true: we’ll always talk about the things that are important to us, the things that make us tick. If our career is the most important thing in our life, or if the latest sportscar is our obsession, or if we just love the Scriptures, then that’s what is going to come out. So because God is full of love for his people, that comes out in everything that He says.

Talking about the heart overflowing with love, we might think of love-struck couples pouring out their “I love you’s” and “I love you more’s.” But is that all there is to the language of love? For God, it goes far beyond this. For remember that God could well be silent. He didn’t need to talk to us. He didn’t need to reveal himself to a rebellious humanity. But He did! God chooses to speak, and in that choice, we see great love. Instead of leaving us in the dark about who He is, or leaving us ignorant about the path to salvation through Christ, the God-who-is-love delights in speaking!

And in love, God tell us things that can really help us—He speaks words that are important! For example, God teaches. He teaches us about himself, his character and greatness. He also teaches us about what He wants. This is because the LORD understands his people. He sees that apart from his heavenly guidance, we’re only going to keep wandering in circles, or blunder our way to disaster.

But the speaking God meets our need for guidance. As dear children, we’re patiently taught by the Father. For He speaks to us in his Word, and by his Spirit. Think of David’s marvelous prayer in Psalm 25: “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth” (vv 4-5).

And listen to David’s conviction a bit later, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right” (vv 8-9). Notice the connection: because God is good, He teaches you. Because God is love, He’ll help you find the truth about what to do, and how to live. If you need wisdom, then ask for it! If you need his wisdom, then seek it in his Word.

Beloved, this is our heavenly example—because with our words we must also teach one another. Now, only a handful of us are “teachers” in any official sense. But we’re not talking about formal education. We’re talking about Christians helping each other to learn the ways of God. This is sharing your knowledge at Bible study, humbly teaching. This is giving sound advice to someone who is going through uncertainty, patiently guiding. This is pointing one another to God’s promises and his commands.

Listen to what Paul writes to the Romans, “You yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another” (15:14). He says that we’re all able to teach—not because we have degrees or certificates. But we’re all competent to instruct one another, because we have the complete Bible, and we have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit! God has given each of us insight into life, and insight into his Word, so that we can teach one another.

Or think of the words in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” So we need to teach—that’s clear from these texts. But before we can do that, notice how the word of Christ must be intimately familiar to us, “Let it dwell in you richly, so that you can teach…”

That’s a hard thing. The Bible can be a big and intimidating book—where do you even begin to look, if you need a text or two? It takes training. We’ll be competent to instruct one another only when we’re in the Word a lot.

So I encourage you to know the Scriptures—and to know them better—so you have something to say to your brother in his confusion. Know the Scriptures, so you can teach your children about prayer, and about money, and being part of the church. Know the Scriptures, so you can guide someone in parenting, or in fighting temptation, or in being a good steward.

This doesn’t mean that we need to have all the answers. We shouldn’t give simplistic solutions to every problem, and think that a chapter-and-verse is enough to clear up confusion. But in love and with God’s wisdom, we should seek to teach one another, as imitators of him.

When God speaks, He also warns. He warned Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden. He warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door and ready to overpower him. So often, He warned the Israelites to turn from idols.

And God warns us too, through his Word. He warns us against losing our temper, against living in pride, and against accepting false teaching. And why does He warn us like this? Because those who live in sin have no inheritance in kingdom of Christ. God tells us to get off the road to sin, because it leads to only one place. God doesn’t want that for us. He warns us, because He loves us and wants us with him!

Here too, we can be imitators of God. Think about those times when we need to give a warning. Warn your friend who’s partying his life away. Warn your sister who is always criticizing other people. Warn the brother who isn’t faithful in coming to church. Warn, because you love them.

I read the other day that the opposite of love isn’t actually hatred, the opposite of love is  indifference. It’s when we just don’t care if someone is struggling or sinning—we let them carry on, without a word from us. That’s indifference, and not love. For true love calls us to do the hard task: to give a rebuke, to offer a gentle admonition, to challenge and confront. We do it, for their good!

God teaches, God warns, and the God who is love also encourages. So much of Scripture records God’s reassuring words. He promises to be our steadfast rock and strong fortress. He vows his constant protection over all our going out and coming in. Even in the midst of terrible events, He gives assurance of his steadfast purpose: “This too, is for your good.”

If we’re his children, this too, is something we should do for one another. This is what Paul writes in Ephesians 4, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (v 29). Take the time to think about what would edify someone else. It doesn’t have to be long or eloquent, just words that are tinged with God’s love, words that impart his grace to the hearers. Listen again to what Peter wrote, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”

So what words encourage? Beloved, in your experience what have you found to be encouraging? When someone reminds me of God’s wonderful promises. When someone tells how God has been faithful to them, and so He will be faithful to me. Speaking the very words of God means using the gospel of Christ to lift up those who are burdened with guilt, those who are beset by sadness. And if someone is serving well, or growing in his faith, don’t be afraid to say it: “God is at work in you—I can see it. May He continue what He’s started!”

From the overflow of God’s loving heart, his mouth speaks. Think of his greatest Word, Jesus Christ—the Word made flesh. Jesus is the ultimate declaration of God’s love, sounding forth loud and clear the goodness of God. Jesus is living testimony to how much God delights in us his people. May our words be faint echoes of that holy Word, where we speak always in love!

Before we move on, let’s look for a moment at what love isn’t. For instance, love means that we won’t gossip about one another. In its lesson, the Catechism mentions gossip, together with false testimony and slander (Q&A 112). That’s not surprising, for we would all agree that gossip is wrong. I suspect that few of us would ever confess to this sin, because we don’t actually think that we were gossiping! We were just talking, weren’t we? Just making some true observations about people, nothing false, nothing really mean-spirited. Detecting this sin in our conversation is difficult.

But what does gossip look like? It’s passing along some inside knowledge when it really won’t be helpful to anyone involved. It’s complaining about someone in the church when you’re not actually going to speak to them about it—you’re just going to share these critical remarks with other; you say that you just need to “get if off your chest.” Everyone in the room might be in agreement that it’s true, but it is still gossip. When there is no Christ-like love in our words, we had better stop. When there’s no love in our words that will correct or rebuke or offer a warning, we might be doing the devil’s own works.

There is a far better alternative, as we can read somewhere else, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Col 4:6). If we want to imitate God, then we’ll strive to speak words full of his grace—words that are patient and forgiving and generous. Such is the power of words of love, and words of truth.

           

2) let us speak like our God, in truth: If Satan is the father of lies, our God is the Lord of truth. This is what He says in Isaiah 45:19, “I the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right.” Our God isn’t deceptive. Our God isn’t artificial or fickle, but He’s true and dependable.

We see this very clearly in Numbers 23. You recall how Balak, king of Moab, was troubled by the huge crowds of Israelites, slowly but steadily advancing to the Promised Land. From the reconnaissance reports Balak knew that he couldn’t defeat the Israelites in the normal way. So he decided to enlist Balaam to help. This was a fellow who made a business of calling on the various gods, getting them to do as he said.

But Balaam has no power over the one true God. You remember how he tried to curse the Israelites, but he couldn’t. He could only bless. Indeed, his mouth was taken over by God, so that Balaam did the very opposite of what he wanted. Not that this had any effect on Balaam. He tried all the harder to curse the people of God.

So God makes Balaam condemn his falsehood with his own mouth. And the LORD makes Balaam praise the God of truth. Listen to what Balaam declares, “God is not a man, that He should lie; nor a son of man, that He should repent [or change his mind]. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (v 19).

These powerful words help us to understand the ninth commandment, and they also help us to see the holy standard that God sets in front of us. God is the true God, and God is the God of truth. And in direct contrast to God is mankind.

Sad to say, but Balaam is a fine example of how we often use our mouths. We speak whatever is convenient at that moment, we speak whatever will be to our gain. For example, sometimes we say simply what others want to hear. We say the things that will win us praise from people, or that will get us their laughter and attention. Or with our words, we distract attention from ourselves, because we want to avoid looking bad, or avoid getting in trouble—we make excuses. And in our speaking, we can be so shifty, so changeable. We protest: “That’s not what I meant. Don’t take my words out of context.”

We do this, because we used to be Satan’s offspring by nature, children of the father of lies. Now we’re God’s dear children, yet the ways of deceit still attract us. Maybe we won’t often tell a deliberate lie, like when we say “Yes,” but we really mean “No.” But that doesn’t mean that we’re strangers to falsehood. For falsehood is also overlooking what’s true and overlooking what’s right. When the truth is right in front of us, we will often try to look the other way.

In particular, think about one kind of lie; it’s the lie that we tell ourselves about our own sins and failures: “This sin is isn’t a big deal,” we’ll say; “It’s not really hurting anyone else. My faith is strong. I’ll be able to stop when I want to. A lot of people do worse than this.” We don’t face our sin, and we’re uncomfortable with the truth which always calls us to change.

That’s what we’re like, as Balaam recognized. It’s not pretty. But God makes it possible for us to change—to change our thinking and our speaking. For when He renews us, He renews the whole works. He restores our hearts, so that they become homes for good things. He cleans our tongues, so they can speak holy words.

And God points to himself as the perfect example. He’s always faithful, always true in what He says. As Balaam himself said, “God is not a man, that He should lie!” Whenever God speaks, we know He’s completely serious.

When God warns us about sin, we shouldn’t doubt his words. He means it! Sin can kill you. It’s not something to fool around with, but something to confess, and to flee. Also when God promises to give strength when we face temptation—He’s not joking. Ask him, and He’ll help you. Or when God promises wisdom, take him at his word. He’s not lying. Ask earnestly, ask constantly, and He’ll show you the way.

As imitators of God, we should not live in self-deceit, nor speak with lies to each other. Rather, God calls us to “love the truth, and speak and confess it honestly” (Q&A 112). Remember how He exhorts us, “[Put] away lying, and ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor’” (Eph 4:25). As we said, if someone isn’t serving God, let’s not to be too polite to call it for what it is. If someone needs help, let’s give help that is real. Speaking the truth is a vital for strengthening the church of God.

Yes, we should speak the truth in love—remember our first point. Being truthful isn’t a license to be blunt, or an excuse for being insensitive. Love is the rule, even when we’re being honest with each other. Love is the rule, because we want our words to have the desired effect. We shouldn’t be looking to make someone mad; to discourage them, to shame them. We’re looking to build each other up!

In Balaam’s prophecy, he also says that God doesn’t repent. This means that God doesn’t undergo any sort of change, no matter what happens. Who God is, and what He has decided, and what He has said, are all firm and unchanging. He’s always faithful to his purpose. He honours his Word and keeps his covenant forever.

As imitators of God, strive for God’s kind of integrity in all your speaking—strive for faithfulness. For example, if we have promised something, we need to follow through. People should be able to count on us. Our spouse should be able, our children, our fellow church members and friends—they can depend on what we say! People should know that you’re not going to change your mind when your feelings change, that you’re not going think little of what you vowed years before, or what you promised just last month. The people in your life should know that your words are firm, as God’s words are firm!

Beloved, it’s so easy to use words in the wrong way. But be assured that God’s way of speaking is always better. We see it in Numbers 23. No matter what Balaam wanted to pronounce, no matter how Satan tried to curse God’s people, God’s words resounded loud and clear. As Balaam had to say, “I have received a command to bless; God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it” (v 20). And when Balak challenged him again, Balaam had to reply, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the LORD speaks, that I must do?” (v 26). Like we’ll sing in a few moments, “God’s truth abideth still!”

God’s truth abides—it remains, and it endures. So we know that if we follow the ways of truth, God will bless. All of life is blessed, when we stick to God’s truth. Let’s then speak words that are filled with love and grace. Let’s speak words that are faithful and true. For then, in some small yet beautiful way, we’ll be like God. And by the words of our mouth, God will receive the glory!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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