Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
David spoke of his tongue as a pen (Ps. 45:1) and his enemies’ tongues as sharp swords (Ps. 57:4). We learn that God hates a tongue which forms lies (Prov. 6:17). Isaiah prophesied a future time so happy that it would case “the tongue of the dumb [to] sing” (Isa. 35:6). The ungodly tongue is described by Jeremiah as a “deadly arrow” (Jer. 9:8). James calls the unruly tongue a “fire” (Js. 3:6).
The tongue is unique among the body’s members. It has so many uses. With taste buds, it judges the palatability of the food we consume. With sensitive nerves, it screens the temperatures of the food and drink which enter the mouth. William McPherson, who lost his sense of sight, hearing, and all four limbs in a mining explosion, used his tongue to read the Bible in Braille. Coordinating with brain and various, undergirding muscles, the tongue is that powerful tool of communication responsible for speech and song. Like so much of what God created, it is a neutral invention. According to how it is used, the tongue is either a blessing or curse upon families, communities, and nations. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.” How can we identify a tongue positively used?
A POSITIVE TONGUE WILL NOT BACKBITE. Those who wield their tongues positively will say something nice, or at least say nothing at all, about an occupant on the “rumor mill.” in fact, we should use our tongues to stop the backbiting of others (Prov. 25:23). A Welsh proverb goes, “Lord, remind us often that a gossip’s mouth is the devil’s mailbag.” Remember, there’s only one thing more difficult than unscrambling an egg and that’s unspreading a rumor. We wish only the best for others. We don’t want to contribute to another’s harm or embarrassment by saying or repeating something evil about them behind their back (Ps. 15:1; Rom. 1:30; 2 Cor. 12:20).
A POSITIVE TONGUE WILL SPEAK GOD’S WORD. On multiple occasions, the psalmist pledged to use his tongue this way (71:24; 119:172). When opportunities with our neighbors and friends clearly present themselves, how can we refrain our tongues from speaking Bible truth and divine expectations? When the Bible is disparaged in our presence, how can we hold back our tongues from defending words more precious than gold? God’s Word contain “glad tidings” (Acts 13:32; Lk. 8:1; Rom. 10:15).
A POSITIVE TONGUE WILL SPEAK WHOLESOME WORDS. The Bible praises those who use wholesome words (Prov. 15:4; 1 Tim. 6:5). Profanity, vulgar stories, suggestive language and sexual innuendos do not drop off of a positive, wholesome tongue. Instead, we speak words that improve and sustain our good character.
A POSITIVE TONGUE WILL BE BRIDLED. That’s how you know who is religious (Js. 1:26). A hot head and a positive tongue don’t rest in the same skull. A blessing tongue and a cursing tongue do not lead to the same end (1 Pet. 3:10-11). A hypocritical tongue and a sincere tongue cannot belong to the same individual (1 Jn. 3:18). Self-control includes tongue-control.
Someone has written, “To speak kindly does not hurt the tongue.” It may only be about three inches long, but it can be trained not to do miles of damage. It can be positively controlled. A bridle for the tongue is a necessary tool which, when used, will cause one to be a shining light in the house of God.
Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30). To top it off, he was married to perhaps the most immoral woman revealed to us during the time of the divided kingdom in the Old Testament. Her name, Jezebel, is still somewhat infamous today. She destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4). The prophets who survived feared for their lives because of Ahab (18:9). Instead, Jezebel kept a stable of false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). Read this section of 1 Kings and the first nine chapters of 2 Kings to get the full flavor of who this notorious couple was.
How ironic that when Elijah appears to Ahab before the prophet’s infamous confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Ahab’s first words to him were, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). There was controversy, division, problems, and trouble in the land, but Ahab’s narrative was distorted. Ahab was like a reckless drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic and blaming a law-abiding pedestrian for being in his way on the sidewalk. Elijah was not the troubler of Israel for daring to oppose the false ways of Ahab and Jezebel. He was doing exactly what God wanted him to do!
In our present, lawless age, there are so many “prophets” who come along with a message appealing to right ideas like peace, grace, unity, and love. Many of them package themselves in the garments of relevance, using our culture as their props and stage. The causes célèbre which our age reveres, some of which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine, ethics, and morality outlined in Scripture, are pushed at God’s people—who are shamed and made to feel unrighteous if they dare protest what is said. In some circles, it is asserted that anyone teaching that the Bible is authoritative, contains a pattern, and is God’s objective truth for all times, is Pharisaical, consumed with self-righteousness, hateful, mean-spirited, and divisive. In short, that they are “troublers of Israel.”
As a quick side-note, there are some who do press their personal proclivities, traditions, and convictions as divine truth. This is as accursed a thing as seeking to nullify what God has bound in heaven (cf. Mat. 16:19; Rev. 22:18-19). Such folks manufacture trouble rather than trouble people by faithfully sharing God’s Word. These occupy unenviable ground, in view of the end of all things.
Yet, anyone who conscientiously tries to follow God’s blueprint for how to share His truth (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Col. 4:6), who takes care to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), is going to invariably encounter the Ahabs, Jezebels, Baalites, and Asherahists. Teach the singular, undenominational nature of the church (Eph. 4:4), the role of women in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-12), the essentiality of baptism in God’s saving plan (Acts 2:38), God’s plan for marriage and sexuality (Mat. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27), and the like, and it will come. The Ahabs will label you the troublemaker and the source of the problem.
In what may sound dark and grim, Paul warns Timothy that difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1). He speaks of men immoral in nature and inaccurate in message who succeed with the weak and impulsive (3:6), who themselves are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7), who in fact “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8). Ultimately, they will not carry the day (3:9). But they will always have their eager followers who “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).
Suppress the victim mentality if you are trying to be an Elijah in this Ahab society. On the job, at home, in the community, within the religious community at large, and even at times within the church, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Do it with great patience and instruction, as Paul counsels. Don’t be a troubler in God’s eyes, but know that you will be seen as one in the eyes of some in this world. Keeping company with Elijah is not a bad thing.
Most preachers know the unpleasant burden of having to preach on difficult subjects. There are some who, whether they find it unpleasant or not, are unpleasant in their demeanor and fully ready to frequently preach on moral, doctrinal, ethical, and other sin-related issues. However, it is distasteful business to most men who stand before congregations or sit before individuals to preach and teach the Word. What are reasons why we may be tempted not to teach truth?
1) Fear of repercussions. This is not said with cynicism or judgement of men’s motives and hearts, but for most of us there is usually fear of unwelcome consequences from preaching on a difficult subject. We do not want to offend people or their sensitivities. We do not want to cross people of influence who might encourage criticism or discontent against us personally. We do not want to see angry or hurt faces.
2) An overreaction to issue-oriented preachers. Most of us can think of a preacher or preachers who seemingly cannot stand before an audience without mounting their familiar hobby horse. Some have a stable of such stallions and a field of such fillies. Because we do not want to be that guy, we may be tempted to avoid difficult, thorny subjects.
3) Not being fully convinced that it’s truth themselves. I am convinced there are preachers who do not believe the truth on certain subjects, but they know the leadership or some in the membership do. So, they avoid preaching those subjects. If questioned on this, they can point to their lessons and defend themselves by saying they have not advocated error on a particular matter. Further investigation would reveal their silence on the matter altogether.
4) An assumption that people already know the truth on a subject. Without proper vigilance and attention to balanced preaching and teaching, this is inevitable. Especially if many in the audience grew up in the church and older members remember certain subjects being regularly addressed in their lifetime, they may not feel a sense of urgency that such subjects be periodically visited. We can raise an entire generation, assuming they believe what we came to believe through studying and hearing these matters preached. This assumption is both faulty and false.
Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 4:6 are beacons and guides that determine how we preach. Acts 20:27 guides us as to what we preach. Fear is not an excuse for omitting certain subjects from our sermon repertoires (cf. Rev. 21:8). An overreaction that causes us to avoid all controversial, “hard” sermons is in itself an extreme (cf. Josh. 1:7). One not convinced about truth owes it to themselves and their hearers to stop preaching until they get that resolved (cf. Jas. 3:1). Assuming people know and understand the truth on a subject can make us poor stewards of the high charge we have as preachers and teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16). Let us be transparently kind, caring, and concerned for people when we stand before them to teach and preach. Yet, let us have a righteous boldness and unwavering trust in the Lord to declare the whole truth so as to please Him.