The Power of Words #8 April 24, 2018

This week let’s look at a concept that perhaps some of us may not have thought of with reference to our words.

In the book of James, the apostle writes: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, before you who that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  James. 3:1

It is easy to dismiss this verse as applicable only to Pastors or Bible teachers and if you are neither one, you may breathe a sigh of relief.

Not so fast!

First of all, notice that James makes no reference to ‘words’ in the verse.  Of course, pastors and teachers do a great deal of teaching with words but the broader meaning of this verse includes not only our words but our behavior.  You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the concept that children learn more by observing their parents’ behavior than by listening to their words.

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There is a notable difference between a ‘believer’ and a ‘disciple’.  The word ‘disciple’ means ‘one who is a follower, one who is ‘under discipline of a teacher.’  The devils believe and they tremble, the Word says.  Jesus never commanded that we should make ‘believers’ but ‘Go, make disciples…’

It follows then that if you are a devoted follower of the Lord, eager to do His will and obey His word, you are a disciple, which carries with it the responsibility to represent the Lord in everything you do and say.  The truth is we are ‘teaching’ all the time, whether we realize it or not.  They way you and I live our daily lives is a constant journey of ‘teaching’ to those around us – good or bad.

Once you have accepted the call to be a disciple of the Lord, like it or not, people will perceive you differently and they will expect better behavior, particularly in your manner of speech. If you used coarse or harsh language before you gave your life to the Lord, those around you will expect your language to change.  By refusing to use inappropriate words, you are “teaching” those around you that you have changed and you invite them by your behavior to do the same.

Not only will those around you expect to see a higher standard, but so does the Lord.  Our highest calling – and this applies to every single disciple of the Lord – is to be conformed into His image and likeness.  This should be our most fervent prayer for ourselves and our most demanding goal – to consistently change how we think, speak and act so that we become more like Jesus every day.

A lofty goal, you ask? Yes, it is, but God never calls us to do something without giving us the grace to accomplish it.  There IS grace for you on a daily basis to make the choices that will change you into a ‘little Christ’.  That in fact is the meaning of the word ‘Christian’.  You are a ‘little Christ.’

So… are you?  Are you more like Him today than you were yesterday? Is your manner of speaking improving? Are you even aware of how important your manner of speech is to your testimony for Christ?  To go to church on Sunday and use nasty, sarcastic or impatient words on Monday with your spouse, your children or your co-workers is a contradiction.

James goes on to say that ‘If anyone can control his tongue, it proves he has perfect control over himself in every other way.’ (TLB)  That’s a pretty big statement and yanks our chain, doesn’t it? James makes clear how vitally important it is to control our speech for it affects our entire life and the lives of those around us.

Application:

Every disciple of the Lord – that’s every person who is born again – is called to Christ-likeness in order to inspire others to want to know the Lord.

Therefore every disciple of the Lord is automatically a “teacher” by word and deed.

Disciplining our tongue is a lifelong commitment which the Lord expects and for which we will be responsible when we stand before Him.

Therefore let us resolve, for our own sake, and for the sake of those we know and love, to exercise control over our tongues that God may be glorified and we may be changed into the likeness of His dear Son.

 

 

The Power of Words #7 April 17, 2018

Do you know that God does not want you to beat yourself up because you’re not perfect?  The greatest of biblical heroes had their flaws, including successes and failures with regard to controlling their tongues.

We read in the book of James: We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  James 3:2  Notice the word ‘all’. All means all – that includes you and me. It is clear from his letter that  even he struggled to maintain control of his tongue.  This should give us a measure of comfort – not excuse, but comfort in realizing that everyone faces this challenge.  You are not alone in the effort to control your tongue and neither am I.

The word for ‘stumble’ comes from a Greek word which means ‘to slip, to sin or to fall’.  Sinning with the tongue is a major theme in the letter of James and it is a serious issue.  Lest we rationalize or dismiss our failures with the tongue, we must understand that we grieve the Holy Spirit with coarse, judgmental or sarcastic language, causing damage to our own soul and often to others as well.

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Therefore the scripture gives us a mandate to deal decisively with our power of speech.

In the first of the psalms called the Psalms of Ascent, we read these words:

Save me O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.  What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue?  Psalm 120:2-3

The psalms of ascent, Psalms 120-134, were sung by the Israelites who made pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year in the days of the Temple. As they approached Jerusalem, they would begin to sing these psalms.  No matter where in Israel they came from, they always ‘went up’ to Jerusalem for this awesome city is nearly three thousand feet above sea level.

The children of Israel were assembling to worship the Lord and observe His festival.  They knew that purity of heart, sincerity of intention and a repentant spirit was vital to the worship they would give to the Holy One of Israel and indeed, necessary to sanctify their act of obedience in traveling to Jerusalem.  To come simply as an annual ritual with no heart intent was indeed a waste of time!  And so, the psalms of Ascent were all about God getting their attention and calling them to a closer relationship with Himself.

The first verse of this psalm says, ‘I call on the Lord in my distress and He answers me.’ Psalm 120:1  Reflecting on their heart attitude and repenting as needed, was the first order of business as they approached Jerusalem.  Sin causes stress – or distress –  whether or not we realize it.  This first of the Psalms of Ascent brought that truth to their consciousness.

What does God have to do to get your attention?

Sometimes He does so through what other people say to us or about us.  Criticism can be painful, even if it is true.  At times we may be lied about or lied to.  That also hurts and our reaction is a measure of our spiritual maturity.

What is a lie anyway? I like this definition from RT Kendall: A lie is the postponement of the truth which will eventually come out.

So if you’re lied about or lied to, relax. Bite your tongue.  Give it to the Lord.  He WILL take care of it in His time and in His way.  See it as a great opportunity to strengthen your character.  Who you are under fire is who you really are.  And there is nothing quite so intense as being under fire for something you didn’t do or say! ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.’  Romans 12:19  Let Him do it – He does it so much better than we ever could.

‘Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.’  Psalm 141:3

Application:

One of the best scriptures to pray each morning is the one above: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Have you ever been around someone who reeks of garlic?  It can be pretty overpowering, even nasty, making it unpleasant to be around the person.

A friend of mine said once, ‘When your tempted to snap back at an insult or criticism, especially if its unwarranted, think GARLIC!’  What comes out of your mouth in an impulsive and/or angry retort is as nasty as the overwhelming ‘garlic breath’ of someone else.

Words have power either for good or for evil. Let us learn to discipline our tongues so that all our words will be words of life.

The Power of Words #6 April 10, 2018

Today we’re going to look at a powerful way to learn tongue control: forgiveness.  Learning to forgive – quickly – those who offend us or hurt us has a profound effect on our ability to control our tongues in other situations as well.

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Developing a forgiving spirit towards others does several things: 1) it makes you more godly for you are imitating our gracious God whose mercies are new every morning; 2) it helps you grow in the virtues of patience and self-control; 3) it protects you from having to eat your words later; 4) it produces humility which is precious in God’s sight.  How so? It takes a measure of humility to forgive for only the proud and arrogant refuse to forgive others. We have a stern warning about that in the scriptures. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.’ 

Joseph, son of Jacob, is a superb example.  I suppose there were many times during his years of separation from his father and his brothers when he was tempted to be resentful, angry and frustrated.  I say ‘tempted’ because there is no evidence that he was a sullen and irritable servant in the house of Potiphar, nor in the prison of the Pharaoh.

When the reunion with his brothers finally happened – some seventeen years later – Joseph’s manner of forgiveness challenges all of us.

When he was about to reveal himself to his brothers, he made everyone leave the room lest any of the Egyptians find out how his brothers had betrayed him.  He protected their reputation!  Godly forgiveness doesn’t broadcast what ‘those people’ have done to you.

Godly forgiveness does not make the offender afraid of you. Joseph said to his brothers: ‘Come, close to me,’  when he saw they were terrified.  (Gen. 37:3-4)

Godly forgiveness lets the offender save face.  Joseph told his brothers: ‘It was not you who sent me here, but God, that many lives might be saved.’  (Gen. 37:9-11)

Godly forgiveness lasts.  Some seventeen years later, Jacob died and the brothers feared that Joseph might then take his revenge.  Apparently they hadn’t really learned who their brother was because their fear betrays their own character, not Joseph’s!  When Joseph learned of their concern, he demonstrated that his forgiveness of them had been a life sentence. (Gen. 50:15-21)  They were still forgiven and would be for the rest of his and their lives.

How did the brothers know Joseph had forgiven them? His words clearly demonstrated that he had no bitterness, no grudge, no lingering anger against them.  It was his words that demonstrated the forgiveness in his heart. 

He certainly had opportunity to say all kinds of other things!  He didn’t. He chose the way of the Lord, the way of forgiveness, and SPOKE it in a genuine and gracious way.

The Word of God teaches us not only to forgive those who, though family or friends, may nevertheless offend us or hurt our feelings.  We are told to forgive our enemies as well.  Knowing that, some of us – in desiring to do right – will say, ‘Lord I just commit them to You.’  That’s good; certainly better than being angry and vengeful. But it’s not quite up to the standard the scripture establishes.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Luke 6:35

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44

We are in fact commanded to PRAY for our enemies, that God might bless them and help them. We are in fact commanded to ‘DO GOOD and LEND, expecting nothing in return…’ Wow! How many of us really do that?

News flash!  Following the ways of the LORD is not a piece of cake!  It’s not an invitation to an easy, self-centered life and if anyone told you it is, they were not preaching the truth of God’s Word to you!

From the very beginning of Genesis we learned that God made man in His image and His likeness.  Therefore, God’s idea from the very beginning was that you and I would be like Him.  So what is He like?

Gracious, Compassionate, Forgiving, Merciful, Patient, Kind and on and on. If He asks us to forgive our brother anytime we are offended, how much more does HE forgive us when we offend or disappoint Him? He forgives continually and without regret.

One final thought: it doesn’t take too much grace to forgive when people are sorry for what they did or said.  Forgiving them in that instance doesn’t give evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you.  But when you and I forgive BEFORE there is any evidence that the offender is sorry, THAT, my friends, demonstrates godly character for it is God Himself who created Redemption before the world was ever created!

Application:

It is OUR WORDS that give evidence if we are bitter or merciful.

And don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Well I might as well say what I think.’  My friend, if what you want to say does not reflect the character and nature of your Savior God, button your lip! It is our tongues that get us in trouble; that tongue which was given us that we might praise God and bless others. Let’s train it to fulfill its purpose.

 

The Power of Words #5 April 3, 2018

This far we’ve looked at the topic of controlling our tongues from various angles. This week let’s talk about how we use – or misuse – our power of speech when we are in the midst of a trial or difficulty.

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Abraham, the father of our faith, stands out immediately as a profound example. Having waited for decades to see God’s promise of a son granted to him, we read in Genesis 22 that God called upon him to sacrifice that very son.  I cannot imagine a greater trial than that, can you?

Abraham not only obeyed the voice of God, but he handled the trial with amazing dignity and integrity. First of all, we do not see any evidence that he railed against God.  Quite the opposite: he rose ‘early in the morning’, took two servants and his son and did not tell any of them where they were going and why. He quietly went about obeying the Lord in silence.

When Isaac asked his father, ‘Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’, Abraham could have lost it right there! But he didn’t.  He simply said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb…’  We hear no self-pity or resentment like ‘How could God do this to me?’ or This doesn’t make any sense.’  He wasn’t sulking or wallowing in self-pity. He dignified the trial with words of faith.

You and I know that God intervened at the last minute and then Abraham had one of the most profound experiences a human being can have: God swore an oath to him.  I swear by Myself, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.’

Every person of faith, Jew or Gentile, is a child of Abraham for it was by his faith that he was justified before God, generations before the Torah was given to Israel through Moses.

Speaking words of faith in the midst of a trial or difficult situation is a promised route to greater intimacy with the Lord and a greater anointing on one’s life.

I also think of Eli, the high priest at the time that the prophet Samuel was born.  When Samuel was just a child, God called to him and he ran to Eli, thinking the priest had called his name.  When it happened the third time, Eli realized that God was speaking to the boy and instructed him to say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ (I Sam. 3:9)

When the Lord called to Samuel yet again, He delivered a word of judgment against the very priest who was raising Samuel!  ‘And the Lord said to Samuel: See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle…I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family…for I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible and he failed to restrain them.’

It had to have been terrifying to a young boy to hear such stern words.  How was this child to pass on the word of the Lord to his respected teacher? But when Eli asked him to repeat what the Lord had told him, Samuel did, exactly as he had heard it.

That became a pivotal moment for Eli.  How would he react? Would he become angry and vent his anger at the boy prophet?

His verbal response demonstrates that though he was at fault as a father, there was nevertheless, a profound respect for the Lord within the old priest.  He said: ‘He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes.” (vs. 18)  His sons died shortly thereafter in battle.

To accept a rebuke from God without complaining or rebelling against it is remarkable. Eli accepted the word of the Lord and made no attempt to excuse himself or rationalize his failure.  Secondly, Eli submitted to God’s judgment with humility.  He owned his own failures and yielded to God’s discipline without complaint.

Speaking words of faith in the midst of God’s rebuke is a promised route to greater intimacy with the Lord and a greater anointing on one’s life.

One last example: Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was told that a large army from Edom was coming against him.  Alarmed, as any national leader would be, he turned to the Lord for wisdom and guidance, calling all of Judah to fast with him.  The word of the Lord came to the king in response to the prayer and fasting: ‘You will not have to fight this battle…do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow and the Lord will be with you.’ 2 Chron. 20:17

The king took the prophetic word seriously and addressed his people. ‘Listen to me, Judah, and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.’

So far, so good, but what he did next was remarkable. He appointed a company of men to go out at the front of the army, singing praises to the Lord, giving thanks to Him for the victory before a single arrow flew through the air.

And what did God do? He ambushed the enemy and Judah overcame them.

Speaking words of praise in faith in the midst of a trial expresses a level of faith that delights the heart of God and brings victory every single time.

Application:

Whatever the trial, temptation or difficulty may be, the outcome has a great deal to do with our words in the midst of it.  These are but three of many examples in the Scriptures which serve to inspire us to trust and confidence in the very heat of a battle.

Like Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the furnace, we, too, can be absolutely certain that a ‘fourth Man’ is in the fire with us – always!