More Than Words (Jon Fryer)

1 Peter 2;11 describes us as 'aliens and strangers in the world'. As Christians we are always immersed in a foreign culture, even when we are at home. As ‘strangers in a strange land’ surely we should keep a close watch on what we say at all times.

ONE

When you were little your mother probably used to tell you that 'sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you’. I think we all know that that’s not true, and that words can be more dangerous than knives. The Bible tells us that words are very important and very powerful. Jesus himself is called the Word, and by the power of the word the universe was created. God said 'Let there be...', and there was. When God speaks, things happen. In technical English this special use of words by God is called 'the performative utterance' - the act of uttering the words actually performs the action described. In Hebrew the same effect is called Bath qol, which means 'the daughter of the voice' - the act of speaking gives birth to the desired effect.

What has all this got to do with us though? Well, we know that God wanted a relationship with us, and so through Jesus He made Himself like us so we could relate, but, in the same way, through Jesus He made us a little bit like Himself - through Jesus we all became sons of the Most High God, with authority to speak on Jesus' behalf in this world – Read Matthew 21;18-20. 1 Pet 4;11 says 'If anyone speaks he should do so as if speaking the very words of God.' Rom 12;14 tells us to 'Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse' - that implies that we have the power to do both. As Christians we have the power of performative utterance. As Christians we have the authority to speak God's words into a situation and see that situation change. As Christians we can say to someone 'Be healed', or say to a demon 'Get out', and expect to see it done. The Bible says so. So why do we so rarely see that power at work in the church or in our own lives?

TWO

Rom 10;9-10 says ‘if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved’. Paul links the words of our mouth and the belief in our hearts with our very salvation, the heart and the mouth are in perfect agreement, proclaiming Christ. But what if the two don't agree? What if the heart is saying 'Yes, I love Jesus' but the mouth is out of control and tearing into another Christian - which then should God believe?

Read James 3;1-12. Blessing and cursing can not come from the same place. If you are praying one minute and then slating someone the next, do you think God will hear your prayers? Your evil words turn your prayers to noise in God's ears, because as James says, salt water and fresh can not share the same space - if you put salt water into fresh it just turns into salt water as well. If you put clean water into a dirty cup, you just get dirty water, and it’s the same with our words. This is why it says in James 1;26 'If anyone considers himself righteous and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.'

Perhaps we are fortunate this is the truth - it would be far worse for us if God did things the other way around and took our every single word seriously - think about it, the church would probably strike each other dead within fifteen minutes! I would suggest however that this is one reason why we see so little power in the church today - power over sin, power over disease, power over spiritual darkness.

THREE

Some people say 'It’s only words, its not a real problem.' I think we're kidding ourselves. Read Matt 12;33-37. Read Matt 15;10-11+16-20. Just as St. Paul linked mouth and heart together, so does Jesus, and Jesus says that if the mouth is wrong then it reveals a much deeper problem, because the heart is wrong too.

Read Isai 6;1-5. Isaiah isn't really talking about his lips - He's talking about his soul and he is using the symbolism of leprosy, which attacks the extremities first, especially the lips. The light of God's presence has shown him his spiritual condition as withered, diseased and deformed, which he sums up with the word 'lips' - his heart is wrong, therefore his mouth is too; his spiritual life is patchy, therefore he says he has unclean lips.

FOUR

I think that this is something everyone in the church needs to think about - how often do we misuse our words to the harm of others and our own spiritual decline? I'm not saying this 'cos I've got this sorted or anything - if anything the only right I have to say this stuff is because I have more of a problem with it than most people. I want to quickly take a look now at some specific misuses of our tongues that are perhaps so subtle that we don't actually think about them as bad, 'cos I think most of us are probably aware of our most obvious faults in this area.

Eph 5;3-7 says ‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.’ This is the first area I want to look at - the way we use humour. Obviously certain types of joke are definitely out, according to these verses. Obscene and coarse jokes are improper and 'out of place for God's holy people'. That doesn't sound so bad; 'out of place' sounds rather mild really, until you remember that the Holy Spirit lives in us - our hearts and heaven are the same place because heaven is where God is - and so if something is out of place in our hearts then something is out of place in God's presence, and that is not good in a big way. Paul is obviously worldly enough to know that this is often a problem when a group of blokes get together for in Titus 2;6-7 he says 'Encourage the young men to be self controlled and show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that can not be condemned, so that those who oppose us may be ashamed that they have nothing bad to say about us.' Interestingly Paul sees avoiding such talk as a good witness - and indeed such jokes are so common that to not take part really stands out; it’s only a little thing, but its very obvious.

Again, this is just a suggestion, but perhaps we should be careful about the other kinds of jokes we make. Sarcasm, irony, putting people down can all be very funny, but in the spur of the moment do we actually think about the effects our words may have - if I make jokes about a friends weight to get a laugh and then say 'Only joking!', I may forget about it, but will she? For all I know she may be really sensitive about her looks and my comments may be adding to her problem - her subconscious may well remember the comments without remembering the source or the context they were made in - end result being a lot of upset and heartache over a few thoughtless words. Prov 26;18-19 says ‘Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbour and says, "I was only joking!" . Such casual words are like a madman shooting arrows in the fact that he doesn't know or care where they will land or who they will hit. They are like firebrands 'cos once they hit they blaze up out of control and way out of proportion from their beginnings. The book of Proverbs mentions the way we use words over 100 times, so I guess its fairly important.

FIVE

Another big problem, I suggest, in the church, is pointless futile quarrelling. We can even row about the colour of the curtains or about whether to call the evening meetings Bible Studies, Cell groups or Community groups – get a grip guys! In 2 Tim 2;14-25 Paul tells Timothy to 'Keep reminding them of these things - warn them before God against quarrelling about words to no purpose which only ruins those who listen. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the Devil who has taken them captive to do his will'. When we fight we are doing the devil's will - I would therefore suggest that it is probably not a good idea. Why can't we just let it go? Do some of these things really matter? If it will make others feel better, why can't we just let them win? After all, even if we are in the right, if we start to bitch and quarrel and fight then we put ourselves in the wrong as well. In fact the Bible tells us the end result of such behaviour in 1 Tim 6;4-5 - 'Unhealthy interest in controversy and empty quarrels about words result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction.'

What would non-Christians say if they heard the 'discussions' in some of our church meetings or conversations after a service which we personally didn't like or disapproved of? Is our talk always glorifying to God and edifying to the church? Read Col 4;5-6. Read 1 Pet 3;15-16.

Again, I think the Bible shows us a root cause for such arguments.

James 4;13-17 says ‘Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.’ These verses are often mis-taught in the church. James isn't saying we should say 'God willing' before we say we're going to do anything - that would be superstitious and empty religion - you might as well say 'touch wood' or something equally silly. What James is really talking about is making plans without first consulting God, as David did with the Temple in 1 Chron 22. He's talking about trying to force our own agendas, both in life and in the church, regardless of the will of God. I suggest that most arguments in the church come about when we try to force our own point of view without listening to the views of others, or even more importantly, to the views of God. Surely God, being a God of order, only puts forward one correct plan for the church - therefore if we find ourselves in conflict then someone obviously isn't listening, and rather than assume that its the other person, maybe we should check our own motives and agendas first. Rather than using our tongues to attack each other, maybe we should just stop and pray - let God make the decision!

Our tongues can be used for good or evil - when attacked it is only human to fight back, but God tells us as Christians to think and then act positively, rather than simply react. We have a choice to react badly and counterattack, or to act for the building up of God's Kingdom and to overcome evil with good - what would Jesus do?

Or how about the way we talk about our brothers and sisters when they are absent? Are we being encouraging or are we just gossiping and fuelling the fights? 2 Tim 2;16 says 'Avoid such godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly, and their example will spread like gangrene.' Gossip is as deadly as cancer to the body of Christ. 1 Tim 4;7-12 again says 'Have nothing to do with godless chatter and empty gossip, but rather set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.' Prov 10;19 perhaps gives the best advice to consider when talking about others - 'When words are many then sin is nearby, but he who holds his tongue is wise.'

SIX

Finally, I think that perhaps one of the biggest faults in the church is criticism. We see something we don't like and instantly we attack that person, often behind their backs - we then say we are just being 'honest' or 'realistic'. Sometimes we even try to hide our criticism under a spiritual facade - we say that so-and so just hasn't got the 'anointing of God' to fill that position as deacon, worship leader, preacher or whatever. The Bible describes the end result of such behaviour in Gal 5;14-15 - 'The entire law is summed up in a single command 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.'

When we criticise each other in our roles in the church, what we are actually doing is judging each other, and possibly even slandering (lit. 'speaking evil') of each other before God. James 4;11-12 says ‘Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you - who are you to judge your neighbour?’ Who are we to judge God's plan?

God calls us to something higher and more noble than empty backstabbing. If we think someone isn't suited to their role/job in the church, then we should pray that God will bless them and actually build them up into that role by giving them the ability and the anointing that they are lacking. If we can't manage that in good conscience, then at the very least we should pray that God will give the wisdom to step down and move to a more suitable role. What we shouldn't do is slate them to all and sundry, or even to their face in the guise of concerned criticism. If they are truly in the wrong place then it is the job of the church leadership to tell them that - it is not our place.

In Matt 5;22 Jesus says ‘But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.’ 'Raca' there is the most obscene insult in Aramaic, and Jesus says that anyone who sinks to that level is in danger of the law courts of the day, but anyone who simply says 'You fool' is actually in danger of Hell. This is because 'fool' in Hebrew doesn't mean 'stupid', it means 'unspiritual' or 'ungodly'. I would suggest that when we criticise or question someone's 'anointing' to perform a role in church we are coming dangerously close to this fault - Who are we to judge our brother? – that’s God's role and therefore an unjust judgement in such a matter is very close to blasphemy.

I think that one root of this problem is revealed by our excuse 'Lets be realistic...' - we are thinking in worldly, 'realistic' terms about the church. The church has become infected by the world’s business ethics that say you have to be good at your job or you're out. The church doesn't need 'realism' of this kind. It’s not realistic to try and feed fifteen thousand people with the contents of a schoolboy's lunchbox, but Jesus did it. It’s not realistic to expect a storm to quit just 'cos we tell it to, but Jesus did it. It’s not realistic to expect a bunch of fishermen to turn the world upside down, but Jesus did it even though they were woefully unsuited to the job. When we are being our most unrealistic, that’s when we give God the most room to work in power and surprise everyone.

James actually highlights some ulterior motives for the use of such 'worldly' wisdom in the church - read James3;13-18. It’s just a suggestion, but which is more like Jesus, criticism or blessing? Read Luke 6;37-38.

SEVEN

As with everything else, there is always an alternative – whenever God tells us not to do something He always gives us something better in its place ( For example, 'Do not get drunk on wine, instead be filled with the Holy Spirit' - Eph 5;18.)

Eph 4;29 says ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ Our lips were meant for building each other up, for praising God, for prayer, for prophecy, for words of knowledge and wisdom and power, and as a weapon against sin - Heb 3;13 says encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.‘ This is what our lips are really for. God has given us the power and the opportunity to change our world and the way we live - if we can be bothered. God has said 'If you take my word seriously and get rid of these things from your life and get rid of these words from your lips, then I will take your every word seriously and I will reach out to heal, and build up, and encourage, and save souls, and even raise the dead and move the mountains. The choice is yours, it’s up to you.'

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The Character of God
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The Authority of Scripture
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The Wise Mans Tragedy
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Obedience
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Cain and Abel
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Aslan
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When the Fire Burns Low
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Fix Your Eyes
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Stewardship
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Stability
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Doorkeepers
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Close Encounters
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Air
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Hearing From God
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The Story We Find Ourselves In
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Passover
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Life
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Fruit
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Authority
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I Will Be With You
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Angels
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Water
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Guidance
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Stones
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The Holy Spirit
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A Relationship With Jesus
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Heroes, Promises and Trust
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The Presence of God
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Obedience
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The Person of the Holy Spirit
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The Passion of the King
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Joy
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More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?

The Armour of God
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Preaching Skills
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Temptation
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Holiness
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Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
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Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
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Becoming a Christian
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