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Ah – human nature! We all have it. We are all weak and stumble in many ways (James 3:2). For instance, we all have opinions about everything from the best football teams to the best new fashions, and often think our view is the view.  

And then when we get together in a group this comes out. There will be things we don’t like – it might be a person, a point of view, or just the way things are done. And we know from experience that this often leads to failings on our part and the part of others as we get caught up in ungodly conflicts and division.

With regard to a local congregation we know that God calls us to be together and to love each other and to do the work of the kingdom together. But how do we then deal with the things we don’t like about the group or don’t agree with? I want to be really specific in our focus this morning – how do we deal with what we may not like about the direction the leadership is setting for the group?

The title this morning is The right way to express concerns – or don’t be a grumbler! Let me emphasize, you will never escape being unhappy with parts of what goes on in a group. It’s human nature and you take that with you to any group you belong to. You can’t get away from it. So sisters and brother, we might as well learn how to deal with this in a godly and healthy way.

I share this morning not just because I happen to be a leader here and don’t like grumbling and how it damages us when it happens, but because I am a part of other groups and don’t want to be a grumbler myself. And I haven’t been and won’t always be a pastor, so I need this just like we all need to be reminded of this.

An all too familiar story

There are a number of stories about grumbling in the Scriptures. One story that stands out is Numbers 14. If you will remember the spies have come back from scoping out the promised land and most of them have given a bad report. It’s great, but . . . we will all be killed if we try to enter it. Then comes vs. 1-4. 1Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ 4And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”

They are grumbling primarily against God here, but for our purposes I want to focus on the grumbling against Moses and Aaron. And we learn first of all from this passage how grumbling works.

First, something bad happened that caused them to be full of fear and negativity. In this case, they heard a bad report. And instead of trusting God, and dealing with the issue, they gave in to fear. ‘We have come all this way only to discover that there are giants in the land waiting to kill us and our families! And even though God has done all these miracles and has been faithful to us in the past, this is too much. It will never work.’

So they began to speak against Moses and Aaron. As v. 2 says, they grumbled. Grumbling is expressing one’s discontent; it is complaining; and it usually carries with it the idea of saying these things quietly to others in the group. They had a problem, they were fearful and negative, and so they blamed their leaders, complaining about them and questioning their leadership to others.

They do bring their concerns to the leaders (v. 2) but not with a right heart. That’s because grumbling against a leader comes from a heart that is in the process of rejecting the leader. Which is what happened next. 

The congregation rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Let’s choose another leader and go in a different direction (v. 4). This is how grumbling works, at least in the case of grumbling against a leader.

We also learn from Numbers 14 about the seriousness of grumbling. 1. That generation was excluded from the promises. They were not allowed to enter the promised land but wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until they died (14:21-23). They did not obtain what God wanted to give them because of their grumbling.

2. Those who gave the bad report that led to the grumbling were killed by the Lord (14:36-37).

Grumbling brings judgment. Paul in talking about Numbers 14 says this in 1 Corinthians 10:10, we must not “grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” And he specifically says these things were written for our instruction to learn from (10:11). And James says in James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, sisters and brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” 

How should we express our concerns?

Well, certainly not with grumbling. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without grumbling . . . ” Instead of this, we should 1. have a right heart. That is, don’t be fueled by fear and negativity which undermines leadership. The Israelites spoke to their leaders, but it was too late. They were already planning on getting new leaders and going in a different direction. Their heart wasn’t right.

Rather, recognize that there will always be problems that we go through as a group. And we need to respond in faith that God will lead us through. If we have allowed our hearts to be full of fear and negativity, pray for the Spirit to change your heart before you speak about your concern. 

2. Go to the leaders. Follow the principle of Matthew 18:15 and go to them face to face. Don’t whisper or talk to others, go to them. II have had for a while now a policy of not receiving anonymous critical notes. And I will say now that I will no longer receive any second hand anonymous verbal criticisms. I don’t want to empower this kind of harmful behavior. If you have a concern put your name and face to it. This is what God wants, direct communication about concerns.

Follow the principle of Galatians 6:1 and go with gentleness. Don’t wait so long that it all explodes in a hurtful and harmful way. Be loving and kind. And as 1 Thessalonians 5:12 teaches go with respect for your leaders.

3. Make your concern known. Listening by all parties is the key. James 1:19 says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

You may find that leadership has more information on the situation than you do, or are working with confidential information, or there might be bigger issues involved that have to be considered. Or, leadership may not have thought of your concern, or they may have a blind spot on an issue, and it is actually God’s purpose that you speak to them to help them.

Hopefully each one’s concerns can be addressed, but sometimes there will still be different points of view. And so as followers we need to let those that God has put in place to lead, lead – knowing that they are responsible before God for the well-being of the congregation and so need to make decisions they are comfortable with. And unless they have done something that warrants their removal, or it is an issue that is so serious that we need to leave the group – we should respect them and the office they hold and pray for them.

Let’s end with a –

A different story

 This comes from Acts 6:1-5. “1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers and sisters pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ 5And what they said pleased the whole gathering . . .”

So there was a complaint, Some were being overlooked in the distribution of food – an alms ministry conducted by the church in Jerusalem for widows. It is interesting that the word for grumbling is used here, translated as “complaint” in v. 1, but it is not used in a negative way. And I think it’s because they had a right heart. They were not fearful or negative, or rebellious against the leaders. They moved forward believing that God would lead the congregation through this.

They went to the leaders, not to others. They didn’t grumble and undermine leadership. And they made their concerns known. They were aware of a problem, which the apostles had overlooked. And because they went the apostles came up with a solution to the problem. They appointed other leaders to oversee the alms ministry and give full attention to it.  

Let me end by just saying once again – in any group we are a part of we will always have disagreements and discontentments. It’s what we do with these that matter.

  • If we follow our natural human response, the flesh, we will grumble and complain to others behind the backs of our leaders. This is the model of Numbers 14.
  • But I would invite you to follow the model of Acts 6. Come so we can talk together. I believe you will find that your input is welcome and valued. And if it seems too intimidating I encourage you to find someone to come with you, and we can talk together.

Which path will you follow? The way of Numbers 14 or the way of Acts 6?

William Higgins 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We come today to the final part of the Sermon on the Plain. This is Jesus’ conclusion to his own sermon.

But before we jump into this, let’s step back for a minute and take a big picture look at how the sermon is put together. (Additional outline handout)

  • As we saw last week, the second section on loving enemies corresponds to the third section on correcting others. They have a common theme – mercy, and a common structure, with v. 36 in the middle holding them together.
  • Today I would highlight that the first section on blessings and woes corresponds to the fourth section, our focus. They have a similar structure and they share a common theme. Both are about a comparison between faithful and unfaithful disciples.

As you look at the way this sermon is put together, notice the X shape of it. This is a common way of thinking and writing in the ancient world. It’s called a chiastic literary structure. The name comes from the Greek letter Chi which is in the shape of an “x.”

Next, still in big picture mode, let’s look at a summary of the teaching of the sermon thus far:

  • In the first section on blessings and woes we learned that we are to be faithful despite the consequences. Even if it makes us poor, hungry, sorrowful and causes us to be slandered.
  • In the second section on enemies, we learned that we are to love our enemies and return good for evil.
  • In the third section on correcting others, we learned that when we see sin in someone’s life, we are to act with mercy, not judgment or condemnation, so that we can help them get rid of their sin.

In his conclusion then, which is our focus, Jesus uses this teaching as a test – ‘How do you compare?’ ‘Are you faithful?’ I can look at my life and compare it to these three things and see, ‘Am I heading toward faithfulness or am I heading toward unfaithfulness as a disciple?’

So this last section is Jesus’ call to faithfulness for each one of us. In this he challenges us to test two things in our lives.

Test #1: Our words

Do our words line up with Jesus’ teaching here?

vs. 43-45 – “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 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.”

Let me point out two things here.

1. The principle of the inner and the outer. This teaches us that what’s in your heart, the treasure, what’s stored up in it, the abundance – that’s what comes out. Jesus says, “Each tree is known by its own fruit” – v. 44.

So you can see what is in a person’s heart by how they act. (Now someone can put on a show for a while, but eventually the truth comes out.) There is an unbreakable connection between the inner life of a person and the outer life of a person. The inner is the source of the outer and the outer is a window into the otherwise hidden recesses of the inner.

  • So you can’t say, ‘I am living a life of sin, but this doesn’t really reflect what’s in my heart. And God just cares about my heart. I like Jesus. I have faith so it’s OK.’
  • Or to put it another way – you can’t say, ‘I’m a Christian in my heart of hearts. People just can’t see it. The outward stuff just isn’t that important.’

According to Jesus, a good tree produces good fruit.

2. The focus here in on our words. Jesus pulls vs. 43-45 together by saying “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” So in this case, it is our words that reveal what is in our heart.

Are we a good tree or a bad tree? The test is are our words in agreement with what Jesus has taught in this sermon. More specifically, do we affirm and teach that we are to:

  • be faithful despite the consequences?
  • love our enemies?
  • give mercy to those who fail and sin?

If we do this shows that we are a good tree. We have stored up Jesus’ teaching in our hearts. And so we have a good treasure, which overflows in words that are shaped by Jesus’ teaching. In other words, we show that we are faithful disciples in this area.

Now this same test can be applied to others who come to us and teach. Do their words affirm and teach all that Jesus says in this sermon? When you hear someone preach or teach, or on the TV or the radio – test their words and see.

Test #2: Our actions

Do our actions line up with Jesus’ teaching here? Do we obey Jesus’ teaching?

Now, let me back up a minute. In each of the sections of the Sermon on the Plain so far there has been a word about how to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s look at this briefly:

  • Section one: If we suffer for our faithfulness to Jesus we will be lifted up and blessed in the kingdom of God and not cursed.
  • Section two: If we love our enemies we are “sons” and thus inheritors of the Father’s kingdom; not sinners who have no reward.
  • Section three: If we give mercy to those who fail, we will receive mercy and not judgment or condemnation on the last day.

There is a focus on entering the future kingdom of God in each of these.

Well, in calling us to faithfulness at the end of his message, here in vs. 46-49, Jesus draws this all together and makes the point that our actions based on this sermon as a whole will determine our eternal fate.

We begin with –

v.46 – “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Jesus’ question is rooted in a contradiction. To call Jesus ‘Lord’ means you are to submit and obey. As Jesus says in 6:40, disciples are supposed to learn from and obey their teachers. But some who call Jesus ‘Lord’ do not submit and obey. This was true in Jesus’ day and it remains true today.

And it just doesn’t make any sense! We say one thing and do another. We indicate that we will listen to Jesus and obey him, but we listen to and obey other voices – while we ignore Jesus.

In vs. 47-49 Jesus gives the parable of the two builders. This compares those who call Jesus Lord and obey him, and those who just call Jesus Lord and don’t obey him. It gives us a picture of the final judgment. And it’s a warning to us.

vs. 47-49 – “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

One house was well built. The builder worked hard and dug deep to lay his foundation on something solid. The second house was not well built. It had no foundation.

Then a storm comes with lots of rain and deep waters. Storms and floods often picture God’s judgment in Scripture (Psalm 18:11-14; Habakkuk 3:3-15; Zephaniah 1:15/ Genesis 6-9; Isaiah 28:2, 17; Ezekiel 13:10-16).

After the rivers were swollen with rain the flood “broke against” both houses.

  • The first house survives the storm. Because it had been well built it “could not be shaken.” It was built on solid rock.
  • The second house, however, immediately falls and “great was the ruin of that house.”

The point is that disciples who only call Jesus Lord, but do not obey him, will be washed away in the storm of the final judgment. This is the second house.   Only disciples who act on Jesus’ words, who obey him, will survive the storm of the final day. This is the first house.

The test, then, is do we obey Jesus’ words? The phrase “my words” refers back to the sermon Jesus has just delivered. We obey his words by living out his teaching here. So –

  • Are you faithful despite the consequences?
  • Do you love your enemies?
  • Do you give mercy to those who fail?

If we live out this teaching, then we show ourselves to be faithful disciples.  Since we have dug deep and built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, we will not be shaken.

————

To sum it up, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in two ways. Do our words line up with his teaching here? And – Do our actions line up with his teaching here? We need to test ourselves in these ways so that we can grow more and more in our faithfulness to our Lord.

William Higgins

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We are bringing our series on righteous speech to a close today. We’ve been looking at this topic because . . .

Our words get us into trouble

James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect person . . ..”  James teaches us that in terms of righteousness, the hardest of all things is our speech. It’s a struggle for all of us.

It’s not that we always say the wrong thing. We usually say what is right. But we still mess up. So we are saying good things some times, but also bad things some times; we are doing both.

It’s like what James 3:9-10 says, – “With our tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” Right? During the church service we praise God and then on the way home when someone cuts us off, we curse them.  James goes on, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My sisters and brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

A pointed example of this struggle comes from the life of Peter:

In Matthew 16:16-17, when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’” Peter used his mouth to speak out words that came from God. 

In Matthew 16:22-23, just a few moments later, when Jesus spoke of the cross it says, “Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” Peter used his mouth to speak out words that came from Satan.

In just a few moments he went from allowing God to speak through him and being commended by Jesus to having Satan speak through him and being rebuked by Jesus.

We often are the same way. We say good things but also unrighteous things. God speaks through us, but also we allow Satan to speak through us. When we do the latter we have to recognize that . . .

We sin through our speech

This is not a trifling thing. We dishonor God with our words and we hurt and wound others with our words.

And as Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37 – “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” If even our careless words will be judged, then all of our words will be judged. As one of you commented when looked at these verses before – “We are all in trouble!” 

So in this series, we’ve been looking at . . .

What should we do?

I’ve given you three guidelines, so far:
1) Don’t talk a lot. Proverbs 10:19 says, “when words are many transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.”
2) Be slow to speak. James 1:19 says, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.” Think carefully before you speak; be thoughtful.
3) We need to learn what righteous speech is and then guard our mouths to make sure that when we do speak, we speak words of righteousness. Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives.”

So to this end, we have looked at different aspects of righteous speech:

  • Honoring God’s name
  • Speaking the truth
  • Not swearing promises but simply keeping our word
  • Not boasting
  • Using words that build others up rather than words that tear down

And we could add many more. For instance:

  • How we should be a people filled with thanksgiving instead of complaining – Philippians 2:14; 4:4.
  • How we should cease sexually immoral language – Ephesians 5:3.

And on and on . . . And we learn about these so that we can guard our mouths and learn to speak righteously.

Today we look at a fourth guideline and the most important one. Yes, you need to know what righteous speech is. But that is useless if you don’t get to the root of the problem of your unrighteous speech . . .

You have to deal with your heart

This brings us to Matthew 12:34-35 – “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”

Jesus gives us this principle: Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So then, evil words come from an evil treasure; an evil heart. But also, good words come from an good treasure; good heart.

There is this unbreakable connection between what is within you, in your heart, and what comes out of your mouth.

So, for instance, do you have:
– boastful words? Look for pride in your heart.
– critical speech? Most likely you have bitterness or discontentment.
– abusive speech? Perhaps you have anger or woundedness in your heart.

And so again – if we want to have righteous speech we have to deal with our hearts – our unrighteous, evil hearts. It like mowing weeds and thinking this will kill them, when the roots are still there and so they keep growing. We can try to guard our mouths all we want to but without this we will fail. We have to go to the root.

There are two ways we can act to change our hearts:

1. Ask God to renew your heart: Ask the Spirit to come into your life and give you a new heart, with new desires and attitudes.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 talks about this. The Lord says – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

God can change your heart, just as when you were born again and given a new heart, so God can continue to come into your heart and transform you and make you new in righteousness. This is the work of the Spirit of God, who works in our hearts to bear good fruit. As Paul says in Galatians 5:22 – “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”

Do you have pride, bitterness or anger in your heart? God can deal with these, or whatever it is – if we let him. And for sure it often means we have work to do, for instance with bitterness choosing to forgive. But the point here is that God can transform your heart if you will let him.

God can bring healing and help, which will then show up in our words. As Jesus said, “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good” – Matthew 12:35. Ask God to help you and he will do a work in your heart.

2. Nurture your heart in righteousness: Be careful what you receive into yourself through your eyes and ears, from the world and it influences. And then be careful what you focus on, meditate on and give attention to in your heart. You are what you ruminate on. This becomes a part of you and shapes your heart.

What you put in is what comes out and if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out!

So receive into your heart the things of God, that will support and work with God as he seeks to renew your heart. As Paul says in Philippians 4:8 – “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Ruminate on these things.

And as we cultivate and focus on these good things of God, this will affect the treasure that is in our hearts. And this will show up in our good words that flow out of the abundance of our hearts.

So here are our four guidelines for righteous speech:
1. Don’t talk a lot
2. Be slow to speak
3. Guard your mouth
4. Deal with your heart

William Higgins

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Words That Build Others Up

We talked before about how our words are a dangerous power. Today we look at how they can be dangerous in terms of hurting and wounding others; how they can be a destructive power.

We have all felt the devastation that comes from another’s words and also, no doubt, have done our share of hurting others with our words.

As Christians, we need to tend to our relationships with each other and guard them. And a part of this is that we must be careful with our words to each other. We must be careful not to use destructive words, but rather words that build each other up.

Focus Verse

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” – Ephesians 4:29 (NRSV)

We have a building or construction metaphor in this verse. We are all like a house, that can be torn down or built up. And this verse tells us that our words can serve to build someone up or to tear them down. And we have to choose which it will be.

Destructive words

So first we look at some examples of speech that tears down with a view to how evil these are from God’s point of view.

1. Angry words that tear down. Jesus talks about this in – Matthew 5:21-22 – “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Jesus is talking about angry insults and name calling (“you fool”). If we see another person as a house, these words are meant to damage and destroy it.

How serious is this? Well, Jesus is talking about the 6th commandment against murder in this passage. He is saying that angry insults and name calling that tear down and wound others are like unto murder. And we see the serious warning of judgment as well.

2. Words of gossip. There are different kinds of gossip, but here I am focusing on spreading true, but negative information about others in order to tear down their reputation.

In other words, it is done to dishonor, degrade the person in the eyes of others. Again, if we see another person as a house, gossip is designed to damage and destroy that person.

How serious is it? In Romans 1:29 – “Gossip” is likened to ruthlessness, murder and hating God. And Romans 1:32, talking about all these things and more says, “those who practice such things deserve to die.” God sees it as deadly serious.

3. Slanderous words. These are lies or half-truths directed at destroying someone’s  reputation and to damage their relationships with others. It can be done secretly, and so be a form of gossip, or it can be done openly for all the hear.

Again, slander seeks to damage and destroy another person, like a wreaking ball coming down on a house.

How serious is it? Jesus says in Matthew 15:19 – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts . . . slander.” It comes from a heart that has evil thoughts.

4. Destructive criticism. This is not constructive criticism that comes from concern or love for the person – to help them. Rather, it seeks to discredit and diminish the person.

It comes from a critical spirit where you are looking for what is wrong. It is using disagreements to destroy and  damage the person – to deconstruct them.

How serious is it? James 5:9 says, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” Once again, God judges those who use words that tear down other people.

We can mention other kinds of destructive speech:

  • destructive humor
  • false accusations
  • complaining
  • backbiting
  • expressions of contempt

Any words that tear down, demean and attack; that are harsh, abusive or belittling; words that are mean, nasty, unkind, hurtful and malicious – all of these are unacceptable.

This all points us back to what we saw before – our words can be weapons of destruction. We can have “tongues like swords” and “words like arrows” – Psalm 64:3. Certainly we can see why James says that the tongue is “set on fire by hell” – 3:6 and that “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” – 3:8.

Just as with the first example of angry words, all these words that tear down and destroy are verbal assault and murder. Let’s be clear here. These kind of words do not come from God. They come from Satan who has been a murderer from the beginning, as Jesus tells us.

So we need to guard our mouths from these . . . and that means also watching over our hands as we write . . .

Emails!

Email (or letters, or texting) can get us into such trouble.

  • Its easier to be mean from a distance, when you are not in the person’s presence, not looking them in the eye. The lack of presence can make you be more cold hearted than you otherwise might be.
  • Emails are also easy to misconstrue – things get shortened, you can’t hear the tone of the words, you can see the nonverbal body language. Especially when there is conflict – it is easy to read into them your own feelings.

So please don’t use emails (etc) when there is a conflict. Face to face is the better way to go.

Edifying Words

Now back to our text as we finish – “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” – Ephesians 4:29. Lets look at three points:

1. “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” This would certainly include what we have just looked at, plus more. We must guard our mouths and not allow Satan to speak through us to destroy our sisters and brothers.

2. Speak words that build up and impart grace. Speak “only what is useful for building up . . . so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” This is the opposite of words that tear down. If we think of a person as a house, it means building them up.

  • Words that lift up, encourage, strengthen, give hope
  • Words of concern – how are you? can I help you?
  • Even words of correction, when someone is taking the wrong path. This is speaking the truth in love (if done rightly). This keeps them from tearing themselves down.
  • Words of blessing and praise

Why do we do this? Because “love builds up” – I Corinthians 8:1. And so our words to others should be loving and life giving.

3. “As there is need.” This means not just being aware of your concerns. See where they are at and what their needs are. This is what love is about. And then speak according to their need to build them up.

1 Thessalonians 5:14, which talks about words that build up, says, “And we urge you, sisters and brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted . . ..” We don’t encourage the idle in their idleness. And we don’t admonish the fainthearted – rebuking those who are hanging by a thread.

We say the right words according to the situation. Find out what the need is and then minister God’s grace to that need with words that build them up.

As we hear this teaching may God give us a heart of love and kindness for one another and may we speak accordingly.
William Higgins

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Another Look at Swearing Oaths

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We are continuing on in our series on righteous speech, learning what the Word says, so that we can guard our mouths.

Swearing oaths is not a topic that is talked about much anymore, but I think there’s some good stuff in this and I want us to dig into it this morning.

We will focus on – Matthew 5:33-37 –

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ “No,’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

What are oaths?

Swearing doesn’t play a big role in our society today, like it did in Jesus’ day and even up to about a hundred years ago. As a result, we don’t actually know much about swearing today.

We use the word “swearing” very broadly to cover things that it doesn’t cover biblically. For instance expletives – foul or vulgar language, profanity or cuss words. However you want to say it. These all basically boil down to various alternative words for “idiot,” “poop” and “sex.” This is not swearing biblically considered.

Swearing is when you call upon God (or some other power) to guarantee your word – that what you say is true or that what you promise you will do. The guarantee equals a curse in that if what you say isn’t true or you don’t fulfill your promise, God himself will deal with you. (The kid’s version goes, “cross my heart and hope to die.”)

The introduction of a higher power lends credibility to the statement by putting pressure on the swearer to come through, for their own sake.

There are three parts to an oath: 1) I Swear . . .  this phrase indicates that you are placing yourself under an oath. 2) By . . . this is a reference to some power greater than you.  3) To . . . this refers to the oath statement itself. This is what you are asserting as true or promising to do.

An example is: “I swear/ by (to) God/ to help you tomorrow.” To swear an oath, you don’t have to go through the entire formula, you can say simply, ‘I swear I will help you’ or ‘by God I will help you,’ for instance.

Two basic kinds of oaths

1) A testimonial oath: You invoke God to testify that something is true or false. In Matthew 26:72/74 – Peter swears, “I do not know the man (Jesus)!” – with curses stated as well.

2) A promissory oath: You invoke God to guarantee that you will, or will not do a thing. In Matthew 14:7 Herod swore a promise to Herodias “to grant her whatever she might ask,” which got John the Baptist killed.

The Mosaic law on oaths

Swearing oaths is fine in the Old Testament. As long as you only use Yahweh’s name – Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20. To use another god is to put yourself under that god’s power. You must also keep your oath – Leviticus 19:12. It is a breaking of the third commandment – using God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7) if you don’t. Swearing is intended to promote righteous speech.

Now we come to our text and look at . . .

Jesus on promissory oaths

We’ll see as we go through this that Jesus is only talking about promissory oaths. Our first clue is that testimonial oaths are used in the New Testament. Just to give one of many instances – in Galatians 1:20 Paul says, “before God, I do not lie,” which is a testimonial oath.  With this in mind lets look at Matthew 5 and break this passage down into three points:

1. Jesus is teaching us not to swear promissory oaths – “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear . . .” – Matthew 5:33-34.

With these words Jesus forbids promissory oaths. (Now some translations say “vow”  here, but that’s not the word and swearing is what Jesus is talking about).

That Jesus is talking only about promissory oaths can be seen in the phrase “carry out” in v. 33. Other translations say,  “repay,” “fulfill,” “perform,” or “keep.”  Since there is nothing to repay or carry out in the instance of a testimonial oath – you have either told the truth or not – this shows that Jesus is forbidding promissory oaths, where you make a promise and have to come through on it.

2. Jesus is teaching us not to swear any kind of promissory oath – “Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black” – Matthew 5:34-36.

Jesus is here rejecting substitute oaths. By the first century people were reluctant to swear by the name of Yahweh, for it was no longer thought fit even to pronounce the Name out of reverence.

This led to much discussion about what substitutes could be used for the Name, and thus which oaths were really binding, and which might not be truly binding . . . and you could use to deceive people.

Jesus gives the examples of heaven, the earth and Jerusalem. His argument here is that all of these substitutes point back to God (Isaiah 66:1; Psalm 48:2), and so they all invoke God, and thus are all binding. [He also makes this point in Matthew 23:16-22].

So when Jesus says, do not swear “at all” he means that all promissory oaths are forbidden – explicit God oaths and substitute oaths without God’s name since these imply God, too.

3. Why we shouldn’t swear promissory oaths – “for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ “No,’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” – Matthew 5:36-37.

Jesus forbids swearing promissory oaths because of our inability to do things – “to make one hair white or black.” The focus is on human weakness. We can’t always carry through on our promises.

Although it is not stated, looming behind this is, no doubt, Exodus 20:7 – don’t take God’s name in vain. Since we cannot always come through on our sworn promises, we should not entangle God’s holy name with our fallibility. This brings the Name to dishonor and brings judgment upon us.

The phrase – “anything more than this comes from the evil one” probably refers to the arrogance of those who do not see their limitations regarding the future and then involve God’s name in this. We are to be humble about what we can perform in the future.

James 4:16 makes this same point. After talking about boasting over tomorrow, it says – “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

Jesus then says, “Let your word be ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ ‘no.’” This means, let our yes be truly a yes and our no truly a no. That is, simply keep your promises; the commitments you make – without using oaths.

Practical application

Jesus does allow testimonial oaths, when we are sure what the truth is, as we see Paul doing from time to time.

His teaching on promissory oaths, however, excludes the traditional political oath of office; the military oath; and the court oath. These are all promissory oaths. You promise ahead of time that you will do a given thing.

But in all of these cases today, as far as I can tell, you can affirm instead of swear – so that you make the commitment simply by giving your word, and not involving God in it. If you find yourself in a court setting, I encourage you to use the affirm option.

In general Jesus’ teaching on promissory oaths calls us to:

Integrity – we should come through on our promises and commitments (without the use of an oath) – Matthew 5:37. Let your reputation for keeping your word be all the credibility you need.

Humility – We are limited in our ability to carry out our intentions. We do not know the future and cannot guarantee it. To try to do so is boastful, arrogant and evil – Matthew 5:33-36; James 4:13-16.

The reverence of God’s name – we especially should not involve God’s holy name by means of an oath with our human weakness and fallibility – Matthew 5:33-37, James 5:12.

William Higgins

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This is a topic that is relevant to all of us, because it is so easy not to speak the truth to one another, but to allow a little dishonesty now and then. Even if we’re not into telling big lies, we can get caught up into telling so-called white lies or exaggeration, thinking it won’t hurt anyone. And this is not considered a big deal by most people. 

There are several words in the Bible that help us flesh-out different aspects of dishonesty:

  • False witness – often used in a legal context, its where you give false information
  • Lying – don’t tell the truth
  • Deception – mislead, trick, not telling the whole truth
  • Slander – where you spread false information about someone – to damage their reputation

We need to watch out for all of these, so lets remind ourselves

Why dishonesty is evil

 The answer is straightforward, dishonesty destroys relationships, indeed, it can destroy whole communities.

1) Lying destroys trust, which is the glue that holds us together in relationships. Trust is what makes our relationships possible.

When you lie to someone you are stealing their trust, as it were, and then using that trust to take advantage of them, or otherwise to get your way in the situation.

When they find out (and usually lies are found out) it destroys the trust they had in you. Trust is a precious gift of great value; and lying damages or even destroys it.

I’m sure you have experienced this. You know how it feels to be lied to; to be deceived. You know the sense of betrayal of trust and the damage it causes.

2) Even if you are never caught, to maintain the lie you have to continue to be false with the person. You can’t be in a genuine relationship with them. You have to wear a mask, so there is always this barrier between the two of you that hinders the relationship.

So the relationship is damaged or even destroyed either way: if you are found out the trust is broken; if you are not you have to put on a mask.

This is, in large part, why Scripture teaches us not to lie. For instance: Ephesians 4:25 – “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Notice the last phrase here, which emphasizes our relationship with each other.

We are in relationship with each other in the body of Christ. And if we are dishonest with each other then it tears the community apart; the relationships that make up that community.

So lying is evil, but let me now impress upon you that it is not something that God winks at –

Lying is as evil as evil gets

1. Proverbs 6:16-19 – Lying covers two of the seven things that God hates. “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eye, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Lying shows up twice! God hates lying; it is an abomination to him.

2. 1 Timothy 1:10 – Lying is classed with sins such as homosexual practice, killing your parents and more generally, murder. Are these other items “really sinful” in your mind? Well the point is – so is lying!

3. Psalm 101:5 – This verse tells us that God himself will destroy a secret slanderer – someone who goes around whispering falsehoods about others to tear them down. God will tear them down.

4. Acts 5 – Ananias and Sapphira are killed by God for lying about their contribution to the church

5. Revelation 21:27; 21:8

  • The first verse tells us that liars are not permitted into the eternal city of God in the age to come.
  • Revelation 21:8 says of liars, “their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

So, it should be clear –

We have to make a choice!

Will we be honest or will we allow dishonesty a place in our life? Perhaps you think it might make your life a little easier at points to allow some dishonesty.

So lets be clear – if we take the path of lying we are choosing Satan to be our father. Jesus says to the Pharisees – John 8:44 – “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. . . . When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” When you lie, you imitate Satan – like father like son.

But if we take the path of honesty, we choose God as our Father – for

  • God “never lies” – Titus 1:2
  • Indeed God “cannot lie” – Hebrews 6:18

So, we have to make a choice.  Finally, let me tell you that –

We will be blessed if we speak the truth

And we need to know this and remember it, because it can be hard to be honest at times.

  • Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” When we are honest we please the Lord.
  • Revelation 14:5 states that those who speak the truth are the ones who will be with Jesus forever in the kingdom of God. They will follow – the Lamb- wherever he goes, for, it says, there was “not a lie found in their mouths.”

So, let us speak the truth to one another. For the sake of love for each other, and our relationships and for the sake of our relationship with God. And if we have not spoken the truth, if you have not I encourage you to make it right before God and before your sister or brother. Amen?

Lets stand together and close by reading Ephesians 4:25 – “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” William Higgins

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