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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God repurposes the power of our words
Text:LD 43 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 9th Commandment (Lying)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 139:1,2,13                                                                         

Hy 6:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – 1 Peter 3:8-17

Ps 141:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 43

Ps 34:1,5

Hy 84:1,4

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

Beloved in Christ, I have a book that’s called Great Speeches. Maybe you think that doesn’t sound too interesting. But it really is! It’s a collection of great speeches by world leaders over the centuries; addresses by Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and so on. These eloquent speeches have some stirring themes and memorable phrases. You’ve probably heard snippets of some of them, here and there.

Besides being interesting history, the book shows something else so clearly: the power of the spoken word. All that a person might have done is stand up and talk in the House of Commons, or give a short speech in Washington, but these words have greatly inspired people, and challenged them, and reassured them in difficult times.

As Christians, we already know the spoken word can be used for great good. Just look how the LORD uses words, sending his many prophets in the Old Testament, like Samuel and Nathan, Jeremiah and Amos. In the New Testament we find other spokesmen for God, Paul and Peter, John and James, who delivered the words of the LORD. And looking around, we still see prophets: men and women and children and young people, all declaring the praises of God who called us out of darkness, and into his marvelous light.

Our words might be humble. And so often we use our words for evil. But spoken in the Spirit, our words have a real power to bless: as we encourage, as we witness, as we confess. Such is the positive power of our words, when they are directed by the ninth commandment. This is our theme in Lord’s Day 43,

The Lord repurposes the power of our words:

  1. not for lies and evil
  2. but for truth and good


1) not for lies and evil: Right now we’re in the second half of the law, dealing with the Christian duties that we owe our neighbour. Onwards from the fifth commandment, God tells us to give respect to people with authority, to uphold the life of our neighbour, to respect their sexual purity and their material possessions. And one of the most powerful and immediate ways that we relate to other people is through our words.

Think of it, how every day we are speaking to others. It’s often from the first moments of waking up, to our interactions over breakfast, to the chatter in the car on the way somewhere, and then during our time at school or work or Bible study, and then at meetings in the boardroom or at consistory, and conversations at dinnertime—we are talking.

I read this past week that women and men speak roughly the same amount of words per day. This is contrary to the popular belief of women being far more talkative. But it’s been shown that women speak just over 16,000 words per day (on average), and men just under 16,000—so, about equal. So we all speak a lot of words every day, having a lot of interaction with the people around us.

Because we use words all the time, Scripture has much to say about our daily speech. Proverbs, for instance, has many sayings about hasty words and wise counsel and upbuilding conversation. We find it in the New Testament too, like in Peter’s first letter. Throughout his letter, he is talking about how believers should live together in the power of the Holy Spirit. He describes us as many “living stones” that are formed into a spiritual house in the Lord Jesus. And if there will be good unity in God’s spiritual house, then we need to speak together well.

Peter definitely addresses the positive aspects of our words and relationships with one another. That is how he begins in 3:8, “All of you, be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” That is how it should be in the church, and in our relations with the unbelievers in our life: that we show love and grace in our speech.

But we first need to go to the dark side of this commandment, and the negative power of words. Because if you think about the 16,000 words that you say every day, how many of them are tinged with a bit of malice, or how many are shot out with some impatience, or pride, or negativity? When there’s a minor skirmish at the breakfast table, or when a relationship has become strained more generally, it is so easy to respond in the wrong way. “You disrespect me, I’ll disrespect you. You criticize me, I’ll criticize you.” That’s our default reaction as sinners: to respond to sin with more of the same, and then to dig into our own position.

As it often happens, we’ll use against each other the sharpest weapon that we have available: the tongue. Peter describes how this happens between people: “returning evil for evil [and] reviling for reviling” (3:9). We can do this right in someone’s face: throwing an insult, delivering a put-down, spitting out a harsh comment. Or we’ll do these things behind their back.

The Catechism explains what some of this looks like. It mentions in Q&A 112, “twisting someone’s words.” Twisting means turning what someone says into something it wasn’t meant to be. It’s like those balloons that you see kids carrying around at the fair. They used to be long and skinny balloons, but they’ve been twisted and shaped into looking like something entirely different, like a sword or a parrot.

We can do that with our words, too. For words are flexible. They can have so many different shades of meaning, and so much depends on the context in which they’re found. So it can be tempting to play with words—to “twist” them—to take what someone said and distort it. We leave out important details. We put our own spin on it, or add some loaded words of our own, which results in something the other person never intended.

It’s very telling how the Catechism speaks of this as “the devil’s own work” (Q&A 112). From the beginning, the devil has been twisting words, misrepresenting God’s truth, lying and deceiving. And when we follow his example, and do this to one another in the home, or in the congregation, Satan is glad. He’s happy when we quietly resent each other, or when we’re suspicious of each other. He’s glad when things get taken the wrong way. For when we become angry at someone, or frustrated, it’s so much harder to serve God in a joyful spirit.

The Catechism mentions “gossip” as another of Satan’s strategies. Gossip happens when we pass along some corrosive words about a person’s social awkwardness, or the behaviour of their kids, or their general appearance. And then we’ve stopped looking at one another with the eyes of Christ. Gossip transforms a brother or sister into someone you look down on, someone you’re ready to walk away from. That’s the power of unloving words.

Sometimes Satan gets us to slander, sometimes to “condemn or join in condemning” (Q&A 112). Condemning means that even if there’s a bit of truth in what we’re saying, we come down harshly, and we judge them: “They messed up,” we say, “Not surprising either—they’ve always done that!” Instead of accepting fellow believers in love, or being patient with their failings, we might condemn one another.

And most often we’ll do it “unheard.” For we get a dangerous sense of freedom when no one is around who is going to dispute what we say. We send a private, gossipy message to our friend. We have a vicious conversation about someone not present. Condemning a person “unheard” means that we’re not talking to them about the problem, like we’re supposed to. And what happens when we let a misunderstanding go unresolved, or let sin go uncorrected? We plant the seeds of resentment.

Then there is “lying and deceit” (Q&A 112). Once again, a lie is too easy. We can lie to hurt other people. Or we’ll lie in self-defense, wanting to avoid being caught out or being shamed. And what about the lies we tell ourselves? Seems a strange thing to do, yet we have a real capacity for self-deception. You think that you’ve got a pretty good relationship with God right now, but you’re lying about the sin that you still haven’t repented from. Or you haven’t faced the truth about your lack of prayer.

That’s how deceived the sinful heart can be: when we lie to ourselves—and we kind of know we’re lying—but we still believe it. We don’t want to hear the truth, because it calls us to back to God’s will. May God help us to be honest, to be real, to come to him for help.

‘Don’t go this way,’ Peter says, living a lie, or “returning evil for evil.” Then he underlines his teaching with a passage from Psalm 34: “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (3:10). Notice how Peter connects “loving life and enjoying good days” with the hard work of restraining our tongue. He is saying that this is the better way to live, the way that leads to peace. So often it’s words that get us into trouble: making other people upset with us, breaking trust, putting a negative lens on our view of life. If you would love life and see good days, let God repurpose your words for something better!

The big challenge we have is that our words act like a release valve for our heart. We do want to “love life and see good days,” but our words trip us up. And that’s because of this reality, says Jesus, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matt 15:18).

I came across a nice comparison for the close connection of heart and mouth. Picture your heart, with all of its many desires and plans and secrets, as something like a group of people sitting around a table at a board meeting. It’s a place where the door is closed, and the meeting isn’t accessible to anyone but those invited. Yet what happens behind closed doors doesn’t stay there. Somehow it always leaks out.

In the same way, we try keep the secrets of our heart locked up. Few people are invited in. But it is only a matter of time before the contents come spilling out. And the first in line to spread the word is always our mouth. It’s our heart’s chief ambassador. And so often, the mouth speaks ‘off the record,’ unofficially. Word gets out, and we give people get a direct line to our heart’s private chambers.

As Jesus teaches, to know where a person’s heart is, just listen to what they say. The fact is, we’re often putting our heart’s secrets on public display: by our words we reveal our attitudes and values. Over time, and in those unguarded moments, our words convey what’s really behind closed doors. And sometimes that is cruelty, or selfish ambition, or ingratitude. So God calls us to exercise restraint when we speak. If we rush in to drop another thousand words, we probably didn’t check our heart. Instead, we should ‘refrain our tongue from evil and our lips from speaking deceit.’ For then we’ll be more prepared to speak…


2) but for truth and good: Words can harm and ruin, no question. But the danger of the tongue is equalled by its potential for real good. God repurposes the power of our words! After all, He is the one who created our mouth and guided the formation of our language—it is his good creation, so we are meant to use it for truth and blessing.

Here the Catechism helps by not just warning against things like gossip and lying, but exhorting us “love the truth, [and to] speak and confess it honestly” (Q&A 112). How are good activities like this possible? Only if God has renewed our heart. Truth and love and goodness are good things that will only come from a wellspring that God has been restoring.

It means that this is an area—our speaking—where our spiritual growth can actually become evident in an encouraging way. You see spiritual growth when you become more sensitive to the failures of your tongue, and you start to restrain your critical spirit or your gossip. We see growth when we learn to be quiet and listen patiently to others before we start speaking. We see growth when we start considering how best to season our words with grace.

And the good thing is that we get daily practice. In our daily interactions—everywhere from the breakfast table, to the school yard, to the checkout at the grocery store—we get practice. When someone treats us poorly, or when someone is grumpy, we’re getting practice. Will we respond in a way that leads to harm? Or will we respond with better words, words that heal and help? That’s the choice that we have.

Listen to what Peter says. As children of God, we should not be those who “[return] evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing” (v 9). Answer with blessing! What does that look like? If your classmate takes a dig at you tomorrow, or your spouse treats you badly, does Peter want us to spread out our hands and give them a benediction? Probably not. It’s a broad term: a blessing is anything that is given or said for the benefit of someone else.

The point is, a blessing is never for evil, but always intended for good. If someone has given you a dose of nastiness, don’t answer with a double shot of nastiness, but with blessing. Use some of your many words to sow seeds of peace, or to bring clarity. Answer with blessing!

In the next chapter, this is what Peter says, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11). Now, the “oracles of God” sounds pretty heavy. What is an oracle? It is a message given by a person through whom God speaks. And who always brought oracles in the Old Testament? The prophets of the Lord, like Isaiah and Malachi and Samuel.

And that is the calling that God gives us. “If anyone speaks…” Peter says—well, who speaks? Each and every one of us! You might not use up all your 16,000 words per day, but you do speak. And when you do, speak as one of God’s prophets: “Speak as with the words of God!” As the Catechism puts it, “Love the truth, speak and confess it honestly” (Q&A 112).

Think of how when you open your mouth this week, you can encourage someone when they’re serving well. You can give godly counsel to someone who is confused. You can share your insight into Scriptures. You can teach a child about Jesus, or you can speak of your faith to a work colleague. Someone is going through a time of distress, and you can build them up.

These are simple things. They don’t feel like the “oracles of God,” profound and meaningful. Yet God gives them power! From your own experience you know that someone speaking the right words into your life you can bring you great blessing. At the moment, it’s just what you needed. God can use our words to bring comfort, instruction, or correction.

You can also give a blessing by responding to people with gentleness. Gentleness means you seek to really understand their concern, you ask for forgiveness when you’ve done wrong, and you affirm your love despite your differences. Peter points us to the good direction of Psalm 34, how the righteous person should “seek peace and pursue it” (3:11). In the Bible, peace happens when believers live together as one by forgiving each other and showing grace.

And sometimes the most peaceful thing we can do is to be quiet. “Responding with a blessing” can simply mean that you choose to hold your tongue. You don’t want to perpetuate your brother’s anger, or give your sister cause for more sin, so you are silent.

In all this, the Lord Jesus is our model. 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, He spoke in gentleness. God’s truth was on his lips, words that honoured the LORD and pointed to the LORD.

Jesus showed how God can repurpose our words to bring life and blessing. For Christ came as a prophet, the Catechism says, to “fully reveal the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption” (Q&A 31). Christ told us how God would save sinners from our misery. Jesus announced that truth with his words, and then He showed it with his life.

Our great prophet has come. Yet the church is now filled with Christ’s own Spirit, and we have been entrusted with his word of salvation. God calls us to speak his truth, to tell of promises fulfilled, and commandments given. We can speak of Jesus, our great Prophet, Priest and King. Wherever we are, we ought to confess him!

So God tells us to take our opportunities to speak up. Listen to what Peter says in 3:15, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” Those are prophetic moments, those occasions when someone asks directly about our faith and our commitment to God. Someone can ask us, “Why do you go to church?” “How do you know there is a God?” “Why does God let bad things happen?” “Don’t you Christians hate gays?” “How can you be so calm with this illness in your family?” Many questions…

The Spirit tells us to be ready for such questions, because they will come. And when prophetic opportunities arise, we should fight our natural urge to turn away. Sometimes a moment of hesitation is all that it takes for the opportunity to be lost.

It’s good then, to think about the questions that might be asked, and to ponder what good answers we can give. Maybe someone is asking about our plans for the weekend, and we have a chance to mention going to church. Maybe someone is worried about where this world is going, and we have a chance to tell about the providence of God, our loving Father. Maybe someone is having a hard time making a decision, and we can share God’s wisdom. In times like this, God calls us to step forward as prophets: ‘Speak and confess God’s truth honestly.’

It’s true, we don’t always know what to say. Sometimes we only think of it a couple hours later. But let us speak because we speak for God. And we can train and prepare ourselves for this work. And it’s the Scriptures that will give us something to say. It’s the Scriptures that can shape our words to each other in the church, and our words to those we encounter each day.

So think about your heart again as a board meeting, busy every day behind closed doors, making work of your plans and secrets and thoughts. That’s how it’s always going to be. But what else can you put onto the agenda? What good and holy things can you be busy with in your daily thoughts and longings?

It’s important, because Jesus told us that when we’re dwelling on good things, then good things will come out of us. Learn God’s Word, and learn God’s truth, for then we’ll have better words to share with one another—words that bless and build.

For that’s how God wants to repurpose our many words each day. Use them not for lies and evil, but for truth and good!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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