Scriptures: Prov 1:20-33l Ps 19; Jas 3:1-12; Mk 8:27-38
Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/12/2021
A wife at a party was overheard saying the following (As reported by Karen Ehman, Keep It Shut, 2015, p. 45, published by Zondervan):
My husband says my ability to talk is what first attracted him to me. He loved how I could work a room, making the shy ones feel included. I could converse with the college president and yuck it up with the grocery store bag boy all in the same afternoon. Yep. My college sweetheart loved how I could talk. So this rather shy guy bought a ring, slipped it on my finger, grabbed my hand, and off we proceeded down the church aisle and into marital bliss.
My proficiency at all things linguistic hadn’t bothered him before. In fact, he had felt it was an asset. I talked and talked. He smiled and listened. And it really didn’t seem to bother him. Then, about three days into our honeymoon, he had this thought: “When is she ever gonna shut up?” In fact, if I make it to heaven before he does, he’s decided just what should go on my tombstone: A period. Ask him why, and he’ll declare, “Well, she’ll finally be done yacking!” (He insists my language has no periods — just commas, colons, and semicolons — because there’s always more to come!)
Isn’t it interesting how the trait we most appreciated about our spouse, before we married, becomes the one that most drives us nuts after we say, “I do.”?
Be that as it may, have you noticed that our lessons lately have had a very practical bent?
1. 5 weeks ago, just as school was starting, they had to do with acquiring spiritual wisdom.
2. 4 weeks ago, St. Paul schooled us in the wisdom of realizing we are in a spiritual battle that requires us to put on spiritual armor and to take up our spiritual weapons: prayer and Scripture.
3. Next we examined the need for us to persevere in the faith so carefully handed down to us by generations of Christ-followers/true believers.
4. And last week, we acknowledged the source of our real security, the Lord.
5. This week, our Scriptures are speaking loudly to us about the wisdom involved in watching our tongues.
The wife in my illustration seems oblivious to the fact that it is possible to talk too much. I have known people like that, haven’t you? They hardly take a breath and leave no space for you to responds. Yet, even if you and I don’t talk too much, we can and do err by sometimes saying the wrong thing.
Let’s look at how our Bible passages today address issues of speech:
A. Proverbs 1:20-33 warns us against rejecting wisdom. The choice these verses set out for us is one we’ve seen before: will we seek wisdom or folly? My son had an older, single roommate once who declared he’d had it with dating and that dating was “foolishness, just a bunch of foolishness.”
While you and I may disagree with his conclusion about dating, we can certainly sympathize with his frustration. But the point is that we can often recognize foolish behavior when we see it in others or when we are guilty of it ourselves. In these proverbs, wisdom is personified, viewed as a person, not just a concept.
In verse 22, she mocks those who persist in foolishness: How long will you simple ones [The Hebrew here is “simpletons”] love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? YIKES! This is a flat out condemnation of foolishness.
We have noted the boomerang effect a number of times in Scripture (we reap what we sow). In verse 25, the consequences of choosing to be foolish are dire—[Wisdom is saying,]—since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you…. In other words, we are free to choose to act foolishly, but there is a price to pay, verse 31–they [the foolish] will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. But if we choose wisdom, verse 33–…whoever listens to me [the voice of wisdom] will live in safety and be at ease without fear of harm.
So what does this have to do with our talk? It implies, by extension, that we need to be wise about what we choose to say. Someone has claimed that trying to take back something unwise we once said is like trying to put feathers back on a plucked bird, or toothpaste back into the tube. Once we’ve spoken something, we can’t take it back. The cancel-culture has been nailing people for things they said way back in their past, assuming they never changed in the intervening years. Thank God our God is willing to forgive us—if we ask Him– for things we said in the past that were less than wise.
B. Psalm 19 outlines three reasons we should revere God:
1. He is Elohim, the Mighty Ones who planned and brought into being all of creation (Notice the plural, Trinitarian reference). Verse 1 reminds us so beautifully—The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. God formed and fashioned the stars, the moon, and the sun. Daily they provide evidence that God exists. The wise person realizes this while the fool denies it.
2. Secondly, Jehovah, our Rock and our Redeemer, gave us His commandments, to guide us in the wise way to live. While we often end up breaking them and needing His forgiveness, nevertheless God’s Law convicts us of sin, and it is trustworthy and unchanging, true, uplifting, cleansing, and right.
3. Third, we should worship and praise God because of Jesus’ redeeming work on our behalf.
When we consider the words that come out of our mouths, we need to bear in mind that God hears it all, from all of us. Is what we say godly? Is it edifying? Is it uplifting?
C. In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother really takes us to task about what comes out of our mouths. First he uses several metaphors to explain how something so small—our tongue—can and does have such a huge effect:
Our tongue is like the bit on a horse, a small appliance of metal that controls a thousand pound animal. Or it’s like the relatively small rudder of a ship that directs the huge vessel.
Then he goes on to state that our tongues can have the destructive power of a forest fire. Verses 7-8–All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Wow, James, how do you really feel about our tongues?
He sounds overcome and defeated, doesn’t he? Even so, it is as though he has circled back to our Proverbs today: We have a choice between wisdom and folly. We have the capability to praise God or to curse folks made in His image. But we really shouldn’t allow two such opposite sentiments to come out of our mouths. Foolish, destructive speech is critical, condemning, and gossipy. My kids once asked why a relative of theirs was so negative about others all the time. Trying to be truthful without condemnation, I told them that some folks believe the only way to rise up in this world is by stepping on the reputations of others. By contrast, speech that pleases God is uplifting, true, and edifying.
D. Finally, Jesus, in our Gospel lesson (Mark 8:27-38), both praises and rebukes Peter for what he says. First He praises Peter because, as spokesman for the 12, he states that Jesus is the Messiah, (in the Greek, this is His title, the Christ). They are now trekking up to Caesarea Philippi, North of Galilee (present day Jordan). It is about 6 months before His crucifixion. Perhaps as they are walking along, Jesus wants to know who they have come to believe He is. But when He goes on to state what will happen to Him as Messiah, Peter rebukes Him—No, no, that cannot be! Peter has just proclaimed Jesus is God; but when he hears Jesus say something he cannot abide, Peter tries to change God’s mind. How absurd! As if a person can tell God what He can and cannot do. If we could, then we would be God instead of God. However, Jesus recognizes that Peter’s words are actually inspired by the willfulness of the evil one. Remember, Satan majors in rebellion against the plans and the will of God. Just as the evil one can and did manipulate Peter—a man who spent 3 years with Jesus—so too can he tempt us to say things we later regret.
This week, let’s try to follow the example of Johnathan Edwards, the colonial preacher and theologian from the 1700’s who wrote several resolutions for himself. We tend to remember only his sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” We often forget that his church youth group inspired the first great revival in America and that he was noted for his sincerity and his passion that people would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Apparently, he once wrote out a number of resolutions for himself concerning his speech:
31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.
34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity [truth].
36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.
70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.
This week, and always, let’s be conscious of what we say to and about others. Remember, God is listening. Kids are listening.
Non-believers are listening. As a contemporary sign I once saw in Hobby Lobby says, “Grace and mercy spoken here.” Amen! May that be our goal!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams