THE TONGUE (3)
In our previous study, we considered the aspect of Reviling. The opposite of reviling is equally condemned in Scripture: flattery. In fact, the Scriptures speak much more vehemently against this than we would ever expect, and this should lead us to some searching thoughts on this matter, as to why it is so evil, what it does to oneself, and wherein we are in danger of transgressing.
The Spirit saith:
“A flattering mouth worketh ruin” (Prov. 26:28)
“Meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips” (Prov. 20:19).
“Yahweh shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things.” (Psa. 12:3)
“Their throat is an open sepulchre… they flatter with their tongue” (Psa. 5:9)
To flatter is to praise with a view of gratifying pride, in order to seek some advantage. It is very common in the world, especially in business and in social intercourse, and is today considered part of the necessary apparatus for gaining our ends with people. My employer has instructed me to ‘grovel’ to get money from people, an instruction I cannot adhere to, but it illustrates the point we are trying to make.
Yahweh hates flattery, because it is false and hypocritical and it caters to the pride of the flesh. It is directly opposed to the divine principles of sincerity and the humbling of the flesh.
If we are not careful, we shall often slip into it, for it is very easy and pleasant and has present advantage, and seems to make things easier without apparently doing harm. But let us remember that it is false, and Yahweh hates it. We must attain the pure, high viewpoint of the Spirit not the low desires of man.
On another, yet similar point, the Spirit warns in Prov. 27:2:
“Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth.”
If we do not set a spiritual guard upon our lips, we shall find that much of our conversation is subtly flavoured with the element of self-praise, self-commendation, and self-glory.
We instinctively seek to impress others. If not by direct boasting, then by little casual hints and references, name dropping and the like, we try to make sure others get to know all the ‘good’ or ‘clever’ things we have done.
If we could have a recording of our day’s conversation, and then carefully study it over at the end of the day in the light of Yahweh’s Word, what a sad show it would often make! How much chaff! How much worldliness! How much juvenile self-glory! How much foolishness! How much out of harmony with the pure, gentle mind of the Spirit!
The Proverbs are our guide in another matter concerning the tongue. How often we find our inner weaknesses mirrored and exposed by these searching Spirit-words!
Who has not many times regretted his failure to remember these words of divine wisdom? Prov. 21:23 advises:
There are some of us who seem to have no ability to keep anything to themselves; they must of necessity “utter all their mind.” Let us take care we are not among them, for the weakness is much more common than we suspect. Many never seem grow out of this habit of childhood.
Paul says, counselling against another evil Eph. 4:29:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.”
Here again, let us not just take a shallow view and brush this off as a quite unnecessary caution in our case. True, we pray we are happily free from the coarse and lewd conversation that seems to be one of the principal obsessions of this degenerate, Sodom like generation, and we note that obscenity is becoming everyday language as evidenced by a recent court ruling that one of the foulest four-letter words in common use today is not obscene.
But what constitutes a “corrupt communication” in Yahweh’s sight? The contrast in this passage (Eph. 4:29) is: “But that which is good to the use of edifying,” implying that what is not good to the use of edifying is corrupt. We are impressed again with the broad principle;
Even among our words, there are no neutrals. Either we are consciously and purposely edifying, or we are corrupting and breaking down, whether it is intentional or not.
And what are we to do as to the “Filthy conversation of the wicked?” We must be ever on guard not to be drawn into the world’s foolish talk, for it so often turns to filthiness or godlessness, and we find ourselves in a humiliating and compromised position as a part of their corrupt picture. Those in the world will remember any small slip of the tongue, and will remind us when we attempt to stand up for the Truth at a later date.
Even silence is hardly a sufficient witness, for those blaspheming and cursing thoughtlessly take it for consent. Gently but very firmly we must make our abhorrence of corrupt communications clear.
On another aspect of the use of the tongue, Jesus says in Matt. 5:34:
Whatsoever is more than a simple yea and nay, cometh of evil!
Any ritual or contrivance to make our statements seem more emphatic or trustworthy “cometh of evil.”
How does it? What does Jesus mean?
There is a deep lesson here, and a deep principle involved. Jesus in the early chapters of Matthew portrays the ideal of perfection:
Jesus sweeps away all oaths by making every word holy and pure, just as he swept away the shadowy Sabbath by making every day holy and pure. A Sabbath set apart implies common days that are not set apart. If every day is lived wholly unto Yahweh, what room is there for a Sabbath?
1 Cor. 13:10 reminds us that “When that which is PERFECT is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
So, it must be with our speech. There are no degrees of truthfulness. When Jesus put away oaths, he raised common every day speech to the high ideal of divine perfection.
Picture a man whose every word is sober and pure and carefully weighed in the divine balance before utterance, a man whose speech is patterned upon all the beautiful instructions of the Spirit. Would it not be incongruous and superfluous for such to bolster his word with an oath?
We must learn to speak as if every word were uttered upon a solemn oath before Yahweh. Though we fall far short, can we not see the infinitely desirable beauty of this ideal. Should we not attempt to live to that high ideal?
But some will say, “Has not Yahweh Himself confirmed His Word with an oath?” True. But we are not Yahweh. A different purpose is to be served, and a different principle applies. For one thing, Yahweh is not upon probation in the way of righteousness, as are we. He is not being trained regarding holiness of speech, as we should be training. For another, Yahweh is dealing with men, the infinite with the finite, and in gracious condescension He gives us added assurance because of our weakness.
Divine Word does not need an oath to make it sure. It is no surer with an oath than without, and the more clearly we can perceive this, the better Yahweh is pleased. We are told in Proverbs 30:5:
Consider how the Lord Jesus marvelled at the deep perception of the faith of the centurion in Matt. 8:8:
The simple, pure, unattested word. What faith! Have we such faith?
And Jesus’ gentle rebuke to Thomas embodies the same principle:
There is another aspect in which oaths are not fitting for men, that does not apply to Yahweh. Jesus says further:
All is Yahweh’s, and only Yahweh can swear by it. Man is weak and puny; he has nothing and is nothing. He dares not even swear by his own head, for he cannot even change the colour of one single hair of that head, as said by our Lord Jesus Christ. How vividly the Master emphasizes man’s utter helplessness! Who is man to swear by anything, as if he could control it, or his own destiny? A passing vapour, dust and ashes:
There is a further serious thought concerning this matter of oaths and yea and nay, into which we easily tend to slip through thoughtlessness. The world is full of subtle substitutes for oaths, so that the flesh may violate the spirit of the command while observing the letter.
If we examine all the common ejaculations of surprise, or excitement, or anger, or even just common emphasis, we shall usually find that they are disguised oaths, and concealed ways of taking Yahweh’s Name in vain.
Consider such expressions as “Good gracious,” “For pity’s sake,” “My Goodness,” “For Goodness’ sake,” “Goodness knows.”
If we have any doubt as to what these expressions mean, and where they are derived from, we need only to consult a dictionary, Webster defines “Goodness knows” as “An exclamation equivalent to ‘God only knows.’” Similarly, we find many exclamations that parody curse words. “Darn,” says Webster, is a euphemism for “damn.” “Gee whiz” is patterned after “Jesus.” “Golly,” Webster tells us, is “a substitute for God.” Let us be very careful in our choice of words, it is so easy to fall into habitual use of such expletives.
Divinely acceptable use of the tongue is a far more serious and searching thing than we are apt to realise.