A sermon by, Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.
July 28, 2013
A woman went to see her psychiatrist, exhausted by her relationship with her cantankerous husband. “Do you have any ideas, doctor?”
“Well, tell me about it,” the doctor inquired.
The lady explained, “When my husband has had a tough day at work, he comes home ready for a fight. If I say ‘black,’ he says ‘white.’ If I say ‘up,’ he says ‘down.’ If I say ‘let’s eat out,’ he says ‘let’s eat in.’ When he gets in one of these moods, nothing I say will satisfy him. And, to be honest, it cranks me up, too.”
“I have the perfect medicine,” the doctor said without hesitation. “When your husband comes home in one of those cantankerous moods, you need to gargle with green tea. From the moment he starts, until the tension passes, just keep gargling with the tea.”
“Sounds odd,” the woman replied, “but you’re the one who went to medical school.”
“I’ll see you in thirty days,” the doctor requested.
Thirty days later…
“Well, how’s it going?” the doctor inquired.
“Unbelievable,” the lady responded. “Gargling green tea has been the miracle cure. When my husband is in rare form, I just start gargling until I see his eyes soften. For the life of me, I can’t figure how, but it works. You’re brilliant, doc.”
The doctor replied, “I’m not really brilliant. It’s just amazing how much it helps to keep your own mouth shut.”
The words which we speak are tremendously powerful. Words can confuse, embarrass, hurt, and tear down. Oddly enough, the same tongue which pronounces words of pain can, in the next moment, articulate words of hope, help, comfort, and encouragement.
Left in its natural state, the tongue is a vile serpent, a deadly poison, a destructive fire. The tongue, left untouched by the graces of God, is an instrument of devastation. It destroys our relationship with God. It destroys our relationship with others.
The truth of the matter is that since most of those around us are tongue-trippers as well, we feel quite comfortable with our stumbling speech pattern.
Let’s listen to these words of wisdom from the words of Proverbs 12.
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down,
But a good word makes it glad.
I. Use your words to build up, not to destroy
Old gossip is immoral, a means of locking another person in the past, tying a person to a past sin in a way that is anything but Christian…. Forgiveness means, in great part, that the forgiven sin is no longer the subject of continued conversation. (William H. Willimon, Christian Century, 10/31/90).
Do you utter destructive words about those around you?
There is a revision of the great hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story.” The sadness is that if we are truthful, this version is more applicable to the way that we live our lives, for most of us spend more time using our tongues to tear down our brothers and sisters in Christ than we do telling the gospel story of Christ.
I love to tell the story of unseen things below,
Of people and their problems, each detail do I know.
I love to tell the story, someone has said it’s true,
To pass it on inspires me as nothing else could do.
I love to tell the story, ‘tis pleasant to repeat,
What seems each time I tell it, a rumor more complete.
I love to tell the story for some have never heard
The things that I could tell them, each vile and juicy word.
I love to tell the story, for those who should know best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
But when I stand before God, and lay my own life bare,
‘Twill be a hard, hard lesson, that there were sins aplenty there.
The words of Proverbs say so powerfully: Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Do you spend your time spewing words of poison? Hurting those around you? Tearing them apart? Beating down the spirits of those about you?
Rumors and gossip are the vehicles that turn life into a demolition derby. Malicious speech comes from the central source of all sin – the promotion of self. This is so in several dimensions.
“Did you hear?” It causes all of those around to stop and then we have the power, we have captured their attention.
“If you can keep a secret.”
It’s a stroke to the ego to have everyone listening intently when we speak – we feed on the attention, unfortunately at the expense of others.
Tearing others down with our words is an indirect way to elevate ourselves. If I say something derogatory about you, I feel better about myself. To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves. Sometimes we are so insecure about who we are, we feel so lowly about ourselves, that we go about with our tongues cutting those around us down to the size of our dwarfed selves.
Saying “misery loves company” has survived all of the decades because it is true. Why do you think that bad news, news of failure, heartaches, and uncovered sin travel by express while good news hardly gets down the track? We don’t want to hear good news because it makes us feel alone in our own anxieties, abnormal in our problems. To learn that our neighbor is having difficulty with his children makes us feel better about the issues that we face with our children.
The problem with our tongues that tear down is that they estrange us from God. When the psalmist asked who may dwell in the sanctuary of God – that is to say, who can have fellowship with God? – he responds thusly: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Psalm 15:2-3).
We cannot commune with God the Father and, at the same time, slander His children.
The same tongue pronouncing words of praise to God, hymns of adoration, and, at the same time, slandering our brothers and sister in Christ? This makes no sense at all.
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”
It is incomprehensible for us to use our tongues to build up God and yet turn and tear down His children.
We can use our words to encourage. To build up. To like who we are enough that we are not frightened to lift up those around us with a positive word.
Joseph M. Stowell, in his book Tongue in Check, tells of a time in his life when words built him up and a time when words tore him down. He relates this story.
My junior high school had scheduled its annual operatic production. Talented students were quick to try out for the various parts. I was not so certain of my abilities and had decided that singing in an operetta wasn’t really for me.
Then Mrs. Wilson, my music teachers, asked me to try out for the role of the servant. It was not a coveted role, but it did have three solos.
I am certain that my audition was only mediocre. But Mrs. Wilson reacted as if she had just heard a choir of heavenly angels. “Oh, that was just beautiful. That was perfect. You are just right for the role. You will do it, won’t you?” I accepted.
When the time came for the next year’s operetta, most of the students who had played the leads the year before had graduated. And Mrs. Wilson had transferred to another school. In her place was a rather imposing figure who had an excellent singing voice and a sound knowledge of music theory.
As the tryouts began, I was ready. I felt confident that my talent was just what the operetta needed. With approximately 150 of my peers assembled, I knew everything would go well.
But if I live for an eternity I will never forget the words spoken on that day. When my audition was completed, the teacher asked, “Who told you you could sing?”
The timid youth of a year earlier was suddenly reborn. I was totally destroyed. Harsh words are bad enough under good circumstances. To a young, idealistic boy, they can be devastating. From the time those six words were stated, it took eight years and the coaxing of my fiancee before my voice was raised in song again.
The same tongue that tears down can be used to build others up.
Speak the same encouraging words to others that you yourself would like to hear.
We need to stop focusing on our own wounded egos. Rather, we need to express genuine concern for others – communicating comfort, love, joy, understanding, encouragement, and peace. Building up our spouses, our children, our parents, our co-workers with words of encouragement. You will never know what the right word of encouragement can do when it comes during a much needed time.
How many people stop because so few say “Go”
In his book, Fully Human, Fully Alive, author John Powell relates a true story. It didn’t happen to him, but to a friend of his while he was vacationing in the Bahamas. What attracted the friend’s attention was a large and restless crowd that had gathered toward the end of a pier. Unable to restrain his curiosity, the man began to walk down the pier and investigate the cause of all the noise and commotion.
Upon investigation, he discovered that the object of all the attention was a young man making the last-minute preparations for a solo journey around the world in a homemade boat. Without exception, everyone on the pier was pessimistic. All were actively volunteering to tell the ambitious sailor all the things that could possible go wrong. “The sun will broil you!” “You won’t have enough food.” “That boat of yours won’t withstand the waves in a storm.” And, of course those familiar words, “You’ll never make it.”
When my friend heard all these discouraging warnings to the adventurous young man, he felt an irresistible desire to offer some optimism and encouragement. As the little craft began drifting away from the pier toward the horizon, my friend went to the end of the pier, waving both arms wildly, like semaphores spelling confidence. He kept shouting, “Bon Voyage! You’re really something! We’re with you. We’re proud of you!”
Had you been there as the afternoon sun was setting and the homemade boat was leaving, to which group on the pier would you have joined yourself?
One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement. It is easy to pour cold water on their enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. (William Barclay, Barclay’s Commentary on Hebrews)
Bart Starr was the great quarterback of the Green Bay Packers . One year he made an arrangement with his oldest son to encourage good grades. For every “A” Bart Jr. brought home from school, Dad would give him ten cents. (It was the 1960s!) One Sunday the Packers had a particularly bad game, and Starr didn’t do well at all. It was a long plane ride home, but as he arrived home and entered his own bedroom, he felt better to see a handwritten note from Bart Jr. It read, “Dear Dad, I thought you played a great game. Love, Bart.” And taped to the note were two dimes! There are times in each of our lives when we can use a little encouragement. (Preaching, Vol. 4, No. 3)
Who have you encouraged this week? Has your tongue been an instrument of victory or a tool of defeat? An agent of construction or an agent of destruction?
A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.
II. Use your tongue to speak the truth
He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit.
Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment.
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight.
Mark Twain once quipped, “When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”
Truth telling has fallen on hard times. We have an ethic of expediency and self-advancement. Forget the truth – say what works.
We live in a day when it’s common to claim on your resumes accolades that are inaccurate.
Adam Wheeler’s story sounds something like a movie, in which a young student fooled the admissions office at Harvard into granting him admission and threw thousands of dollars at him for financial aid. Wheeler lied about just about everything he submitted to Harvard, claiming that he attended MIT and Phillips Academy with near-perfect grades, co-authored books, delivered lectures, and taught courses, when he actually had done none of those things. Wheeler even submitted a perfect 1600 on the SAT, when his real scores were actually 1160 and 1220. Although it seems Wheeler is of slightly above-average intelligence at best, he was somehow smart enough to make his fake documents look like real ones, fooling Harvard admissions staffers. In all, Wheeler was charged with 20 counts of larceny, identity fraud, falsifying endorsement, and pretending to hold a degree, with more than $45,000 in financial aid stolen. Wheeler was discovered after a Harvard professor noticed that he’d plagiarized nearly the entire essay he submitted for review as a Rhodes scholar, and further investigation revealed that virtually everything about Wheeler had been fake.
Or, Marilee Jones. I’m quite impressed by former MIT dean Marilee Jones, who kept up her resume lie for an amazing 28 years. Jones joined MIT in 1979 to help recruit women to the university, and in her original resume, apparently “misrepresented her academic degrees to the institute.” The truth was, she had not earned any college degrees. But the resume fib wasn’t discovered until 28 years later, long after Jones had risen to the rank of the dean of admissions, keeping her misrepresented degrees on her resume in each new position with the institute. Jones says, “I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my resume when I applied for my current job or at any time since.” When her lie was finally discovered, she resigned, but has moved on. Jones has continued to work as an admissions consultant for applicants as well as institutions including the Berklee College of Music. (blog.resumebear.com/human-resource-news/10-worst-resume-fibs-in-academic-history)
Lying – part of the believer’s past. Lying is a product of the flesh. It is a part of what we used to be. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). Our newness aligns us with Christ and with His truth. No wonder Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.” The one who enjoys fellowship with God “speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man” (Psalm 15:2-3). (Joseph M. Stowell, Tongue in Check)
Jesus himself tells us that those who lie are acting like the father of all lies (John 8:44-46).
We learn two attributes about our speech in these words of wisdom found in Proverbs 12.
1. We ought always to use our mouths to build up those around us.
2. We must speak the truth.
You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
One further word of caution. Jesus tells us to be careful what we say because we will be held accountable for every word that we say. Our words are here to stay. They are eternal in their existence, and we will be judged by our words.
A woman developed a very serious throat condition. The doctor prescribed medication, but told her that her vocal cords needed total rest – no talking for six months! With a husband and six children to care for, it seemed an impossible order, but she cooperated. When she needed the youngsters, she blew a whistle. Instructions became written memos, and questions were answered on pads of paper she had placed around the house. The six months passed, and after she recovered, her first comments were quite revealing. She said that the children had become quieter and then remarked, “I don’t think I’ll ever holler again like I used to.” When asked about the notes, she replied, “You’d be surprised how many, written hastily, I crumpled up and threw into the waste basket before I gave them to anyone to read. Seeing my words before anyone heard them had an effect that I don’t think I can ever forget.”
Before you say anything, ask:
T – Is it true?
H – Is it helpful?
I – Is it inspiring?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?
Not only must what we say be true, but it must be spoken in love. How many words have you said in your lifetime that should have never been uttered? How many times should you have given a word of encouragement and you remained silent?
What about last week alone? Did you utter unfit words to your spouse, your children, your students, your co-workers?
In closing, let me be confessional. Last week on vacation, Jordan, my middle daughter, and I were loading the car for our final trek home. Three thousand miles, 30 hours in the car, six hours on the airplane, and six different beds. Guess I was a grumpy tease. I said to Jordan, “You’re as useless as a white crayon.” Jordan looked up and replied, “Yesterday you told me I wasn’t worth shooting.”
Jordan knows I love her. Jordan knows I was teasing. But when I forgot my harsh words, interestingly enough, Jordan remembered.
Oh God, help us to measure our words.