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“Words of Wisdom” Sunday 17th September 2017 Rosalie 9:30am
You would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the current debates that are ongoing in our nation concerning marriage, religion, gender, and sexuality. One of the flow on effects from this debate has been broader conversation about freedom of speech…
The thought that all people should be free to express their opinions without the fear of recourse or without the threat of being silenced.
I must admit this current debate has got me thinking: why is it that we are so passionate about preserving freedom of speech? What it is about our speech that make it so valuable to us that we will do anything to have the freedom to use it? I mean out of all the amendments to the US Constitution, why is freedom of speech the first and most famous?
And further to that: Is freedom of speech something that we as Christians should be passionate about? Is it something that we should seek to sure up above all else?
This morning, as we continue to unpack God’s wisdom for our lives, we will take a look at our speech, our words, and by God’s grace find answers to these questions. This morning we are going to uncover the power of our words and how God intends us to use that power.
Words are an expression of self
It could be argued that a husband and wife who have been married to one another for say 20 years, know that they love each other… and yet they still yearn to hear it from one another… why is that? I mean it is unlikely that each is so insecure and unsure of their partner’s feelings that they desperately need to hear it over and over again… What power do those 3 little words have?
The power lies in the fact that words are not merely words… they are never just lines on a piece of paper or sound waves buzzing through our ears… and they are not even just the communication of information… facts… Words communicate self!
When that husband says, “I love you” to his wife he is actually taking something of who he is and what he feels and gifting it to his wife. His “I love you” means something to his wife because it is coming from him… it is the revelation of his feelings… it is the declaration of his love for her!
This is why hearing from certain people means more to us than hearing from others:
A young athlete can hear praise from his peers, his coach, the media and it mean nothing in comparison to hearing his father say, “I am proud of you son.”
See when we speak to one another, when we write to one another, even when we send a quick love heart eyed emoji… we are giving more than mere words… we are giving ourselves!
Jesus declared in Luke 6, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” In other words, what comes out of here is born in here… if you want to know what someone is truly like, listen to the way they speak!
This is why freedom of speech matters so much to us…
Because what is on the line when our freedom to speak is threatened is not just our ideas, our beliefs, or our position… what is on the line is our very selves… who we are. This is why we react so ferociously when someone tries to silence us… it is why we will interject ourselves into conversation… it is why we always want to have the last word…
And it is this truth that raises the stakes when we open up our mouths to speak.
Proverbs 18:21 puts it like this, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
See like the rest of Proverbs the father imparts wisdom to his son by making him aware of the two voices that will vie for his attention. The voice of folly, wickedness and sin… and the voice of lady wisdom. And in this case he says one leads to death and the other to life.
The father tells his son that there is no middle of the road conversation… his words will either inflict deathly injury or they will breathe vibrant life.
And so as we unpack what Proverbs has to say about what we say, I aim to show you from the father’s wisdom what each of these extremes looks like in the hope that we might all be pulled away from deathly words and learn what it means to speak the gift of life.
Words can be used to inflict ourselves on others
“Yeah it’s OK, but it’s not as good as my mum makes it.”
“You spent how much on that?”
“Who are you getting all dressed up for anyway?”
“Why do you have to hang out with her, she’s no good for you.”
“What about me? Do you even care what I want?”
“How many times do I have to tell you?”
“You stupid woman. What is wrong with you?”
“Stop crying. It’s all your fault. Stop trying to play the victim all the time.”
“Now look what you made me do.”
This is the progression of verbal abuse that so often accompanies domestic violence.
It starts with lies and mistruths, moves on to insults, and on further to emotional manipulation. A verbal barrage that over time is like a flogging with a barbed whip. Each word is like a thread of leather carrying a vicious hook that tears flesh with every lash.
And each word designed to do one thing… enforce dominance over someone.
And this is not just some example in a sermon… this is a reality that is faced by all too many people in our nation as daily they are subjected to this grinding barrage of language. Made to feel inferior. Crushed by guilt. Choked by oppressive restrictions. While physical brutality is a shocking and abhorred reality in far too many relationships, most domestic violence is enforced by words rather than fists… or in the very least, it starts with words.
Now I know that this is an extreme example of abusive language and it is thankfully not the norm for many of you, but I reckon examining how words are used in this context gives us insight into what the father in Proverbs is saying when he speaks of foolish, wicked, and sinful words that lead to death. Listen to the way he envisages it:
- Proverbs 10:18-19,“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking…”
- Proverbs 12:13,“An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips…”
- Proverbs 12:18,“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts…”
- Proverbs 16:28, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”
Wicked words are untrue, slanderous, unrestrained, rash, provocative, and manipulative.
But they also all have a common purpose… to conceal hatred, to inflict damage, and to bring division… wicked words are spoken to steal the joy of others by inflicting them with self!
And this is what we have to realise… so often we like to think of the terrible things we say as slips of the tongue or things said in the heat of the moment… but we cannot escape the reality that these words that cause untold harm to those around us are not the product of mistake or mere overreaction… they are the product of a desire to force ourselves, our ideas, our beliefs, our rights, our preferences on to other people:
- The abusive husband or the manipulative wife use their words to force their partner to serve their needs, whims & desires
- The overbearing parent uses their words to push their child to live up to their expectations
- The cruel boss uses his words to beat his workers into submission to his will
- The insecure teacher uses her words to crush the spirit of her students so they will comply
Make no mistake, whether overtly or subconsciously, when we speak with this kind of venom it is not a slip of the tongue, it is a carefully crafted speech designed to inflict others with ourselves.
When we think back over our day or our week or our life, I reckon there are far more instances where we think to ourselves, “I can’t believe I said that” rather than, “I can’t believe I did that”.
It is actually relatively easy for us to put on good behaviour, but reigning in our words is a lot more of a challenge. James 3:7-8 declares, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” And Proverbs tells us the reason we find it so difficult to tame is because we love to let it loose… it is driven by our selfish desires!
The first thing we need to understand about our words is that they have the potential to wreak untold havoc on those around us because we use them to inflict our will on others.
Words can be used to impart life to others
And yet it is our words that separate us from the animals possibly more than anything else… sure animals have their ways of communicating with one another, but if we could translate their noises, their vocabulary would be limited to: “Hey I’m over here” “Get away this is my territory” “Hey guys I found some food” and “Look you really should consider mating with me”.
Animals communicate out of necessity, where as we humans have a capacity to communicate for beauty, to tell stories, to evoke emotions, to make promises, and to inspire.
Whether it be the empowering surge that comes from an inspirational speech, the touching sentiment of a handwritten letter, the delight that arises from a song that speaks to your heart, or the joyous elation that comes from hearing a wedding vow… Yes our words have incredible power to wreak havoc all around us… but they also have the power to lavish glorious good.
See just as the father warns his son about the voice of foolishness, wickedness and sin when it comes to his words, he also directs him to the voice of lady wisdom:
- Proverbs 15:4,“A gentle tongue is a tree of life…”
- 16:23, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”
- Proverbs 24:26, “Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.”
- Proverbs 25:11,“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
- Prov 25:15,“With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.”
A tree of life, judiciousness, persuasiveness, golden apple on a silver platter, capacity for significant change, like a kiss on the lips.
Every single one of us knows the positive power of words.
We have been uplifted to greater deeds because of an encouraging word, we have been steered towards joy by a wise word, we have been vindicated by a just ruling, we have been comforted by a sympathetic word, and we have been secured by a word of love.
Words are not inherently evil simply because all too often they are used to inflict selfish pain on others… words are a glorious gift of God and they have a stunning capacity for good in this world.
But just as we needed to look closer to see what it was that made our foolish words so bad, we have to dig beneath the surface to see what makes our wise words so good.
Think for a moment about the way in which the father envisages this wise language: It is gentle, it is well-judged, honest, measured, patient, and soft… Gentleness, truthful, and patient… all of these cannot be driven by selfishness, pride or personal ambition. Selfishness always wants to be fast, deceitful, harsh, and boastful… but the gentle words of wisdom can only come from a heart that has given itself over to serve the person it is speaking to.
Think of all the times you have tried to help a toddler learn how to do anything…
Being a toddler, they want to do it, they want to do it their way, and they are urgent to get it done… and you the poor parent, uncle, aunty or grandparent have to negotiate with them to guide them in the right direction. If there is one shred of selfishness in your heart… that toddler will draw it out of you…
It is only when you abandon any thought of self-gain from the situation and give yourself over to seeing them flourish above all else that you, and your words, will find the gentleness, patience, and measured nature that he or she needs.
Here’s the deal: If our words are an overflow of our hearts, then only the heart that is filled with love for others is going to overflow to gentle, truthful and patient words. This means that:
- When your child, or your student, or your friend is struggling to get their life together… Instead of inflicting our self onto them by saying things like, “Why can’t you be more like?” or “What’s wrong with you?” we need to be given over to love as we serve them with our words… “I know it’s tough, I know it hurts, but we are here for you.”
The second thing we need to understand about our words is that driven by selfless love they have the capacity to speak life into those around us
How should we use our speech
Last year when I was in the States I was having breakfast, sitting in the widow seat of a café looking out at the street, people watching and taking in the American culture… saw a lady get out of a car and get harassed by anti-abortion protesters… calling her murderer… killer…
See freedom of speech is one thing, but why is it that those who campaign hardest for it always seem to be defending their right to say something in an ugly and hateful way?
Here’s the deal: you have freedom of speech, and I pray that you will always have freedom of speech, that your right to express your beliefs and values will always be granted to you… but you don’t have the freedom to express it anyway you want… not if you claim Christ as Lord anyway!
Martin Luther said, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” This was his summary of 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul declares that, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” And if we apply this principle to our freedom to speak we might say, “The Christian is the freest to speak of all, restricted by none; the Christian is the most dutiful servant with their speech, bound to serve everyone.”
As a Christian you have the right to freedom of speech, but you do not have the right to use that freedom to speak hatred. Our freedom of speech is trumped by God’s desire for our speech, namely serving others by imparting life.
Because when you speak, something of your identity is wrapped up with your words and passed on to who every hears you. Out of the overflow of your heart your mouth speaks. So if you claim to have your identity in Christ, if you claim that Jesus is in your heart… then people are going to associate what you say with Jesus…
When God speaks
And Jesus cannot be confused for hate speech!
See speaking being the overflow of the heart does not just apply to humans… it applies to God as well… when God speaks it is not just arbitrary laws or stories or wise sayings… when God speaks it communicates something of His character, His nature, His being…
And the greatest Word He ever spoke was Jesus…
Jesus is the true Word of God… meaning that Jesus is the truest overflow of the heart of the Father… when we hear Him, we hear everything that is God…
And what does this Word of God do, what does He say? He gently restores the broken, He lovingly brings peace, He graciously forgives sins, and He powerfully imparts life…
It is only when this Jesus, the Word of God, the overflow of His heart, governs our speech that we might know what it is to speak words in line with what God created them for… to impart life!
So Rosalie Church, can I plead with you to use your freedom of speech to impart life, to serve others in love, to communicate Christ.