Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Are you kidding me? Am I not supposed to talk now? That’s hardly the point, but a number of scriptural admonitions indicate the importance God places on how we express ourselves. Any observance of the conversations taking place around us reveals the frivolous, coarse, indifferent way we treat people and the loose way we sometimes handle the facts concerning others.
Jesus spoke to this issue in a way that makes me very uncomfortable when he said, “…men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless (NIV or idle KJ) word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36,37 So what if I’m out of sorts and say something I don’t really mean? Don’t my actions speak louder than my words? Possibly, but we often let slip what we really think in unguarded moments, saying what we actually feel about a person or their circumstances that we may never otherwise say “out loud.”. Our words becoming a window to our souls. Jesus describing it this way. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45 (See also Hebrews 4:13)
Sometimes we find ourselves with people who talk and behave in ways we normally wouldn’t and are tempted to do likewise. That’s why the NASB renders the title scripture a little more urgently, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.” Prompting noted Jewish theologian Judah ben Samuel to say, “As long as I remain silent, I control my tongue. Once I start speaking, my tongue controls me.”1 Which is why Jesus advised, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 Confirming James’ estimation of the enormous potential for evil – and good – our tongues possess. (See James 3:5-10, especially “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”!) Conceding that, “We all stumble in many ways.”; James none-the-less insists that if anyone were able to achieve faultlessness in what he says, he would be perfect and “…able to keep his whole body in check.” James 3:2 Reinforcing the statement of Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death,…”
Isn’t that merely hyperbole? Not really, especially when you consider how often the “blows” delivered verbally are often as impactful as actual strikes to the body of those we accost; embarrassing, categorizing, demeaning, scaring and scarring people in ways that can actually outlast scratches, cuts, bruises and even broken bones. Our attitude toward others and the words we often use to denigrate them – even if unintentionally – have ramifications beyond what we may intend or expect; not only on them but for us as well. In fact, Jesus compared anger to murder, contempt deserving censure, disgust and disregard qualifying us for condemnation. (See Matthew 5:22) Jesus also stressing how what we think is often as important as what we eventually do. The progression of hateful attitudes and words to hate-filled actions – or unfeeling disregard and lack of compassionate acts – are easily recognized in the lives of people yet today.
In comparing lust to adultery and anger to murder, Jesus graphically characterized the gravity of the “mental” sin to emphasize the seriousness of its consequences. Especially since our words can indeed “kill” relationships, reputations and prospects – leading some to self-destruct through suicide. Not to mention “killing” any possibility we may have of witnessing to people we speak so harshly to or about, possibly destroying any willingness on their part to ever listen to anyone else on the subject of a loving God offering forgiveness and mercy – after experiencing that God represented by unloving and unmerciful members of His church. In debating a number of issues with the religious authorities of his day, Jesus defined what truly defiles us. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and those make a man unclean.” Matthew 15:16,17
Interestingly, other “rabbis” used this same type of analogy in dealing with “sins of the tongue.” As in, “A slanderer stands in Damascus, but kills in Rome.” 2The victim often never aware who his attacker is. (With the technology at our disposal today, this is doubly true!) In fact, some rabbi’s used almost the same terminology as Jesus when noting the correlation between anger, slander and murder; pointing out how the consequences victimize at least three individuals. The object of the slander/gossip. The person sharing in the slander. And the perpetrator, who will be held accountable by God and those whose reputations are damaged.
Peter advises, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.” 1 Peter 3:10 (In Hebrew, an “evil tongue” includes gossip, slander and malicious speech.) Which is not merely a prohibition against telling untruths about people, but entails sharing negative truths you have no business sharing. Paul advising us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3,4What a difference that would make!
Finally, if you ever find yourself the target of a misguided individual, Paul instructs us to, “…not repay evil for evil… if it is possible live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath,…” Further instructing us to do the opposite of what human nature might dictate by responding in peace and concern for those attacking us. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” The goal being to, “…not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21Echoing Jesus command for us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who insult you.” Luke 6:27,28 Assuring us that, “Blessed are you when people…” do so, especially if it’s “…because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,…” Matthew 5:11
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Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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