THE POSITIVE USE OF THE TONGUE

THE POSITIVE USE OF THE TONGUE

Neal Pollard

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.

Foul

Foul

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

This word has no positive meaning. Fouling on a spark plug means it’s time to replace it. A foul smell is an unpleasant one. Fouling in the barrel means it’s time to clean your gun. In sports, a foul is usually bad for your team.
 
In older English translations, “foul” is used to describe something impure, unholy, or evil (Mark 5.8; Luke 6.18; Revelation 16.13). Regardless, we understand that something foul is not what we want attributed to our character or in contact with our senses.
 
Are our words foul (Eph. 4.29)? Unwholesome here is σαπρός (sapros), which means “rotten, bad, or harmful.” It describes any kind of speech that has no positive effect or worth. Christians, there is no world in which cursing is excluded from this definition.
 
Consider the following:
 
I Corinthians 9.19ff encourages us to follow culture as long as it doesn’t violate God’s law. Even our secular culture recognizes that some words are not appropriate. Every culture has a set of words, phrases, postures, etc. that are offensive or recognized as inappropriate. These are σαπρός, and have no place in our lives.
 
I Peter 3.10 points out that our words have an effect on our quality of life. This includes avoiding lies and evil speech. Evil here is κακός (kakos), which means “bad, injurious, harmful, or wrong.” Lots of words fall under this category, but why are some exempting curse words? How do those not fit σαπρος or κακός?
 
In the last few years, even some theologians have argued that cursing is not under the purview of these passages. Far too many Christians use words that our culture understands to be curse words.
 
Ephesians four is a chapter about leaving our old lives behind. Part of leaving our old self behind is controlling our speech and using it to encourage others (28). By using foul language (σαπρος), we grieve (offend, distress, cause to become sad) the Holy Spirit (29)!
 
If we know that our words can have an effect on the Spirit that translates our deepest emotions and loss for words into meaningful petitions to God (Romans 8.26, 27), why would we use words that could very easily be described as worthless, harmful, or wrong?
 
James 3.2
The Haste Of The Hermandads

The Haste Of The Hermandads

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

In the 1100s, in an effort to protect travelers going from northern Spain over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Dogs of God, Reston, 50), a military force known as the hermandads (“the brotherhood”) was organized.  Soon, these vigilantes spread across Spain and offered themselves as protectors of roads and merchants.  Eventually appointed as a national police force who could collect taxes and prevent insurrection in every municipality, they would go on to exterminate untold numbers of Muslims, Jews, and other “enemies of the state” during the Middle Ages.  Reston mentions an unsettling “right” granted to the hermandads in the 15th Century, during the famous reign of Isabella and Ferdinand.  He writes, “In a curious turnabout, executions took place first, and trials were held afterwards” (51).

Given our country’s constitutional concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” this practice seems both backward and barbaric.  How useful is a trial to present facts about a case after the defendant has been executed?  What if the deceased was found innocent? What if there was no proof of guilt?  Of course, the “facts” of every case incredibly supported the punitive action that preceded it.

While we may find such a practice appalling, how often do we do the same with our tongues?  Through rash anger, reckless gossip, and rabid prejudice, we can serve as judge, jury, and executioner of the reputation and actions of another.  How often do we jump to conclusions and assassinate another’s character, but later revelations prove our actions both premature and unjustifiable?  Unfortunately, the damage having been done, nothing done by way of reparation can fully undo the effects upon the victim.

What we need to see is the spiritual danger we face who “execute” before “trial.”  Solomon wrote, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).  A few verses later, he says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (21a).  That New Testament “wisdom writer,” James, adds, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 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” (3:8-10).

Be very careful!  Even when we think we have the facts about another, let us post a guard outside the door of our lips (cf. Ps. 141:3).  Better to deliberate and reserve judgment than to execute before the trial has been held!

INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRIVATE OFFENSES

INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRIVATE OFFENSES

Neal Pollard

The Son of God gives specific instructions for what to do when a spiritual family member sins. Jesus clearly says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Notice the Divine pattern. 

  • Perpetration (15a)–“If you brother sins.” This is what initiates the situation.
  • Presentation (15b)–“Go and show him his fault in private.” Paul would teach this later (Gal. 6:1). Notice that this is to be done privately.
  • Aspiration (15c)–“If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Ideally, this is where the matter should end.
  • Escalation (16-17)–Jesus tells one what to do if a sinner refuses to listen. Start by taking one or two. If that does not work, then tell it to the church.
  • Repudiation (18)–If all three of these approaches fail to win the sinner, then you reject them.

Tragically, we very often disobey Jesus’ instructions about this and fail to understand that rebelling against His commandment then makes us a sinner, too.  How often does it happen that a person, rather than dealing directly with the sinning brother, tells someone else? Then, that someone tells another. Soon, a whole group or even the whole church knows about the sin. Often, something that was private and even between just two people is made public by gossipers who continue to spread the matter. In some cases, those who hear and spread the matter never even speak to the offender. This prevents the sinner from being aware of who knows about it or being able to reconcile. It can even be the case that the sinner has repented and handled the matter with the original offender, but now others are brought into the matter after the fact. Those who have come to hear about the situation treat the sinner “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” without ever once speaking to them about it. Rifts form and relationships are affected. 

When we fail to do things God’s way, we will make matters worse. May we consider passages like Mark 7:21-23, where Jesus places “big” sins like “fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness” alongside “little” sins like “deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.” Jesus’ analysis is that “all” these things are “evil” and “defile the man.”

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It Didn’t Go Like He Planned

It Didn’t Go Like He Planned

Neal Pollard

G. Gordon Liddy once related a bazaar story about a man, jilted by his girlfriend. Apparently, he tried to commit suicide in front of his rival (the girl’s new boyfriend). He pointed the pistol at his chin, pulled the trigger, and fully intended to die. However, the bullet somehow ricocheted off his teeth and fatally struck the other fellow. Intending to “end it all,” the young man was charged with manslaughter, third-degree murder, kidnapping, and assault.

That was not in his script. He had not planned it to go like that. He was going to show his counterpart, his girlfriend, and the rest of the world that his emotional wounds were so great that he was going to engineer his final exit strategy. How remarkably foolish!

How often, though less dramatically, does this occur? In words or actions, we tell others, “I’ll show you! You’ll be sorry!” With such haste and waste, we rashly do something we live to regret. We put our souls in jeopardy to get even with actions or words we perceive  offensive and injurious to us.

Solomon warned, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29). When we act without weighing the consequences, we rue the choice we make. Appropriately, the wise man again said, “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few” (Ecc. 5:2).

Spiteful actions are futile and sinful (Psa. 10:14; Luke 18:32). “Get even-ism” is a sickness and a symptom of worldliness. It disregards Christ’s mandate for God’s children to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). It is written, “If you have been foolish in exalting yourself
Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth” (Prov. 30:32). If everyone practiced this sage advice, fewer would overreact and more would overcome.

Think before you speak. Consider the consequences of rash decisions (remember Jephthah?). Avoid the tragedy of thoughtlessness. The failure to control our lives results in a punishment far outweighing a jail sentence.

Consider the words of this poem, written anonymously.

“Boys, flying kites, haul in their white-winged birds,
But you can’t do that when you’re flying words.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes drop back dead,
But naught can kill them when they’ve once been said.”

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THE POWER OF THE TONGUE

THE POWER OF THE TONGUE

Neal Pollard

One of the leading stories in today’s news concerns a young woman, Michelle Carter, facing manslaughter charges for allegedly coercing her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. He was 18 and she was 17. While at earlier points in their relationship she tried to dissuade his talk of suicide (he had attempted suicide before meeting her), by the end she was insistent and even steered him onto the subject of taking his own life. The night he succeeded in killing himself by carbon monoxide poisoning, she even urged him at one point to get back into the truck. The hundreds of text messages she wrote are disturbingly callous and malicious, and she faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Her words are at the heart of this case, and prosecutors say she is complicit in his death because of all that she said (The Washington Post online, 6/7/17, Kristine Phillips and Swati Sharma).

It is incredible to consider that this young woman used her words to so discourage and deflate another human being, to even actively push him to die. Yet, Scripture tells each of us that, spiritually, we all are exercising the power to either promote life or death through our words. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.…”  This is why Paul urges us to give thought about the character and nature of our speech, saying, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6). Our speech can kill in many ways:

  • Vulgar, coarse speech that can encourage others to think of the unwholesome and sinful
  • Hypercritical speech that can deflate and discourage people’s good works
  • Gossipy speech that can cause people to be divided and distanced from undeserving victims
  • Dishonest speech that can lead people astray from the truth
  • Railing, sinfully angry speech that can be self-destructive to the speaker
  • Hypocritical speech that can cause people to be turned off by Christianity

We may be prone to excuse our words as harmless when in fact they can be a matter of spiritual life and death for ourselves or someone else. Our prayer should mirror that of the psalmist, who pleads, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). We possess such power! Let us harness it and use it for life, not death (cf. Jas. 3:2-12).

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Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

SUCH AN EASY, DANGEROUS THING TO DO

SUCH AN EASY, DANGEROUS THING TO DO

Neal Pollard

There’s an old joke out there that goes, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  If you say “yes,” you imply that you used to do it.  If you say “no,” you suggest that you are still doing it.  Obviously, the question may be where the problem lies.  If you do not beat your wife, the question would not be relevant and certainly not fair.

“I hear Brother So N So holds this position,” that “School X teaches error on such and such,” and that “Congregation A is ‘off’ on that.”  Too often, maybe based on a feeling that the source is credible, a person gullibly accepts the accusation at face value and even passes it along to others.  Of course, some are very blatant and public in teaching things that are contrary to the Word of God. They loudly proclaim and proudly publish their false views, but the aforementioned innuendoes and intimations are an altogether different matter. Why these rumors and accusations get started is sometimes hard to pinpoint.  Is it jealousy, misunderstanding coupled with indiscretion, meanness, or possibly something more benign?  Writing about presumption last year, I urged the presumptuous to “substantiate before you propagate, and then only carefully and prayerfully” (https://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-problems-with-presumption/).

Solomon wrote that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Prov. 22:1) and that “A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecc. 7:1).  While we are the primary stewards of our “good names,” others can tarnish it unfairly.

It is good to ask, “Do I know this rumor to be true?” Or, “Is it a matter of judgment and opinon with which I disagree, or is it truly a matter of doctrine and eternal truth?” Or, “Does the ‘reporter’ have an agenda that needs to be considered?” Or, “Why do I want to pass this along?”

“Slander” is a verbal offense that should not be in the Christian’s repertoire (Psa. 15:3; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1).  That is “old man” activity!  It is easy to besmirch someone’s character and reputation, but what a dangerous thing to do.  May we bridle our tongues lest we set fires (Js. 3:3,6).

Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Neal Pollard

What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common?  Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word.  Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language?  Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?

You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy.  You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person.  How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.”  Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.”  The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom.  That’s pretty serious!  Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.

Our speech is powerful.  One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation.  As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

Neal Pollard

While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way.  By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul.  The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.

James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26).  This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer.  In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue.  But, the principle applies much more broadly.  One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion.  Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.

James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27).  In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word.  This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture.  James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence.  Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.

I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am.  I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds.  That determines what kind of religion I have.