tHE TONGUE (1)
The Scriptures have much to say about our speech. It is one of the many faculties with which we have been endowed, and it is the one that involves the greatest responsibility. The importance of its relation to the way of life or the way of death can hardly be over-emphasized. The Spirit through Solomon declared Prov. 18:21: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”
By the medium of speech, which had been given to the serpent, Eve was persuaded to transgress the law given by the Elohim. By the same medium, countless since have been deceived into the way of death. Speech when confounded by Yahweh resulted in Babel.
But also by it, many have been led into the way of Truth and Life. Without the power of speech, mind could not influence mind, man’s sympathetic relationship with man would be greatly altered, and concerted action would cease. Speech, in its power and influence is infinite, and may be regarded as the motive power of the world.
And not only is our course directed by the influence of speech from without, but our own faithful or unfaithful use of this great power will determine our own eternal destiny, for speech is the key to a man’s character and heart.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is recorded in Matt 12:34 to have said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” If the Truth is uppermost in our hearts, it will be uppermost in our speech. We all know brethren and sisters of whom this is true, and we also know brethren and sisters of whom it is not true.
We know those who are genuine in their speech, who wish to glorify Yahweh through their words, and we are aware of those, who, at the other end of the spectrum, lie, and wish to cheat others out of their eternal heritage through their spurious theories.
Our mode of speech is one of the most searching tests we can do to determine as to whether we truly are “in the Faith.” Of course, there are some who talk a lot about the Truth, but it is obvious that they do not have the true spirit of the Truth: talking is not everything but we can be sure that those whose conversation is always about other things are certainly not “in the Faith.” Remember the wise words of Solomon, Proverbs 1:10, “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”
And it is not just the subject matter of our conversation that determines our heart, it is the spirit and character. The Truth can be used in conversation as an instrument of abuse and antagonism to gratify pride and the perverse, evil reactions of the flesh within us.
Solomon says in Prov. 12:18: “There is (he) that speaketh like the piercing of a sword, but the tongue of the wise is health”.
We know, of course, that the pure Spirit-Word is sharper and more piercing than any two-edged sword, but it must be wielded in meekness, and wisdom, and love, to purge and purify, not to condemn and destroy:
“If a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” Gal. 6:1.
The Apostle also writes:
“The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
“Speak evil of no man, but be gentle, showing all meekness unto all men”. (Tit. 3:2)
The supreme importance of the proper control and use of the tongue is vividly illustrated by Jesus’ solemn declaration:
“By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 13:37)
And David says in Psalm 34:12-13:
“What man is he that desireth life? Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile.”
As we have read this morning, James’ short epistle devotes a whole chapter to the power of the tongue, to what a tremendous influence it wields, and how difficult it is to control.
The control of the tongue is among those things of which Jesus says: “With man it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” In this matter, we must confess our helplessness, and earnestly seek Yahweh’s help. James says: “If a man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body.” (Jas. 3:2).
If we can learn to control our tongue, we can overcome and control all. James remarks that the same tongue will pour forth blessing and cursing, blessing Yahweh with a great show of reverence and love, and then turning around and cursing men, whom Yahweh hath made in His own image and all of whom He would desire to have taught and led in the loving way of life and Truth.
It is the lesson of the unmerciful debtor, is it not? And we all need to take it to heart. Who are we but weak and sinful creatures completely dependent upon Yahweh’s love and mercy, therefore who are we to take it upon ourselves to berate and condemn others? It is a natural, evil tendency of the flesh to criticise and find fault. James searchingly and decisively sums up the vital importance of our speech when he says in James 1:26:
“If any man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, That man’s religion is vain.”
The Scripture gives much detailed instruction regarding this essential bridling of the tongue. Let us now consider this instruction together, and then let us all search our hearts to see whether that by failure to properly use and control this member, we are making our religion vain.
The Scriptures refer to at least twenty different aspects of the use of the tongue in which we can manifest the vanity of our religion. Some, such as lying, we may at first glance, feel that it constitutes no problem or danger as regards the brethren of Christ.
Brethren and Sisters, if we look into each more deeply, remembering how the law of Christ searched right down into the dark and sometimes unsuspected roots of our inmost thoughts and motives, we shall realise that all aspects of the use of the tongue are matters of real concern for each of us. As James says, in alerting us to the dangers of the evil motions of the flesh within us: “Do you think that the Scripture saith in vain, the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy”? (Jas. 4:5)
Let us look then, at the matter of lying.
Paul speaks of the new man, created after the Elohim in righteousness and true holiness:
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour” (Eph. 4:26)
Jesus promised in Matthew 5 that the pure in heart, and they alone, should see Yahweh. The Spirit through Jeremiah declares that the natural heart of man is deceitful above all things. Any deceit is lying, and any lying is deceit.
Brethren and Sisters, the purifying of the heart is a life long task. Who of us can say we have never missed to declare the whole truth, regardless of embarrassment or personal disadvantage? Surely none of us who have embraced the Truth would consciously tell a lie—or would we?
Nevertheless, how easy to keep silent or cover up a mistake or give an incorrect impression, or allow a misunderstanding, rather than openly face the consequences with a fearless purity of heart!
The full stature of the perfect man we know in Christ Jesus is an infinitely high ideal. “Blessed are the pure” the completely, guilelessly pure in “heart, for they alone shall see Yahweh.”
Evil speaking, backbiting, and tale bearing comprise another manifestation of the evil of the flesh that finds vent through the tongue, a very common evil that only the power of the Spirit can control. Unless we are constantly careful, and unless we are purely motivated by love and the mind of the Spirit, we shall find that much of our conversation about others, when honestly evaluated by Divine standards, comes under the heading of gossip and backbiting. Usually, if analysed, we find that such conversation is driven by envy.
True, there are times when it is necessary to speak of the faults of others. But unless it is truly necessary, and done in the scriptural way, and in the proper scriptural spirit, we are running a grave risk of divine condemnation.
The Spirit through Solomon declares in Prov. 26:22: “The words of a talebearer are wounds and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly”. The immediate reaction of the flesh, on reading this passage, is to be struck with how remarkably well it fits someone else, who here is now attributing such behaviour to someone else? But let us, for the time being, curb this evil reaction and consider how remarkably it fits ourselves, how many times we have allowed the natural malice, of which we all have a share, to lead us into this flesh-gratifying sin. “The words of a talebearer are as dainty morsels”, Brethren and Sisters, how searchingly true is this divine analysis!
The way of the Truth is the way of love in all relationships.
If our feeling toward our brethren and sisters is not pure love, regardless of their faults and weaknesses, then we ourselves are not the children of Yahweh, but are of the world. Love is kindness and gentleness and a desire to help and strengthen. It does not mean that we condone error or laxity in things Divine—remember the goodness and severity of Yahweh. Solomon records in Prov. 17:9: “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love, but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.”
As I said, this does not mean a glossing over or condoning of what is wrong, but a proper, pure-hearted, sympathetic, loving approach with a desire to build up. Let us take heed that we do not stand at the judgment seat exposed before all, as, what Paul describes in 1 Tim. 5:13 as “tattlers and busybodies”.
It is a very easy and common sin. “Speak evil of no man” is the command. Even in our proclaiming of the Truth, let us take heed. We are not judges or executioners, but humble messengers with good tidings of light, love, divine compassion, and long suffering.
Foolish talking is another universal failing of the flesh. “Foolish talking and jesting,” says the apostle, are “not convenient” not fitting, not in harmony with the holiness, solemnity and beauty of our calling.
Ephesians 5:4 states; “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” It is sometimes hard for us to see the point in this, especially if we are young. It seems to describe a dour and sour outlook. Joking seems so harmless and good-natured and pleasant. But as the mind grows in spiritual values, light and foolish talking is seen to be empty and shallow and false. The real abiding joy of the Spirit is gradually realised to be deep and permanent, while humour is so transitory, and basically unsatisfying, with no lasting power. Very often the humour is based upon the derision of others, especially those of different cultures than our own: what strange conversation to be uttered in an Ecclesial environment.
How well is it summed up in Ecclesiastes!
“Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
“It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.”
“For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity” (Eccl. 7:3-6).
For Yahweh’s children there is never any place for angry words:
Paul exhorts in Eph. 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, be put away from you, and be ye kind”.
Solomon also says in Eccles. 7:9: “Anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” An angry parent cannot be creating a righteous child, for righteousness is self-control and anger is an immature lack of self-control. How can we be teaching what we are denying by our actions? Do we realise the seriousness of angry words? Jesus clearly warns us in Matt. 5:22: “Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of Gehenna fire.”
In the final twenty-one verses of the book of Proverbs, there is a description of the ideal woman the ideal wife, her price far above rubies. This beautiful picture is both literal and spiritual. In its fullest sense it represents the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, and as such it has a message for all who aspire to membership in that glorious community. Verse 26 says:
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
“In her tongue is the law of kindness.”
At all times and under all circumstances, otherwise it would be meaningless. Here is the essence of ideal womanhood, one who is suitable to be termed as “The Bride”.
Some more than others, but all of us quite often, are guilty of the fleshly folly of just plain talking too much, and keeping talking when inappropriate. At some Ecclesias there is a deliberate time set aside at the commencement of a function called by some ‘Meditation’.
Most Brethren and Sisters need to sit for a few minutes to rid their thoughts form the clamour of the world around and to prepare themselves mentally for the purpose for which they are meeting. This applies to all meetings, including Sunday School, where the sanctity of Yahweh and His Son is involved.
When a voluntary is played, the intention is to try and induce a sense of sobriety and propriety, but of late in many Ecclesias that apparently has not been the case. Those that seem to be able to make it on time cannot seem to stop their chatter until the Presiding Brother is on his feet. Maybe we should allow ourselves from 5 to 10 minutes of quiet meditation prior to a meeting to compose ourselves, forget about others and concentrate upon the task at hand. I will only suggest such a period, as to do further may be too legalistic for some.
Returning to the excess of talking, Solomon again exhorts in the Proverbs: “In the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin; but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). This is bound to be true, for a loose tongue cannot be a carefully disciplined tongue. It is the sign of a shallow mind: again in Eccles. 5:3:
“A fool’s voice is known by multitude of words”.
Let us, when we find ourselves chattering, remind ourselves that we are manifesting our folly, and therefore sinning before Yahweh. Of those who aspire to the eternal joys of fellowship with Him, He requires constant reverence and circumspection: As Ecclesiastes 5:2 plainly states:
“Yahweh is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore, let thy words be few”.
Jesus warned, regarding a similar abuse of the tongue in Matt. 12:36
“Every idle word that men shall speak; they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”.
Some, feeling this to be “a hard saying,” have tried to change its meaning by interpreting “idle” as “evil,” but when we look honestly into the true meaning of the word, we find it does really mean “idle”, “vain”, “profitless”, and it is a sober warning against a very common weakness. The mind of the Spirit is a consistent way of life and idle, profitless words are no part of that way.
(To be Continued)