Music playing. An empty bank account is usually a clear indication of financial problems. Well, in the same way, empty words reveal spiritual poverty. Today on Truth for Life Weekend, we're in a series called Wise Words. Alistair Begg is teaching from chapter 13 in the book of Proverbs. We're looking today at verse 3. The use of words that are harmful not only divides people and destroys praise, but it diminishes the progress of the people of God. Three things never come back—the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity. The spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity. You see how quickly we can destroy a friendship, decimate a relationship, crush the spirit of someone? With just this little three-inch by five-inch piece of mucous membrane that all of us have stuck in here, hidden behind our teeth?
Very uncomfortable, isn't it? I find it so. So let's turn to the positive side, see if that's a little better. How about using words to help? Using words to help. If the speech of a scoundrel is like a scorching fire, then the mouth of the righteous, says Solomon, is like a fountain of life.
Wonderful picture, isn't it? Scorching fire, burning everything in its way, fountain of life, people love to come to it and be refreshed. Or the healing tongue, he says, is like a tree of life. Reminding us that the power of the tongue may be employed to encourage, to affirm, to enrich, to reconcile, to forgive, to unite, to smooth, to bless.
Add a verb, pick a verb, any verb. These words are described in graphic terms in Proverbs, described as lovely earrings, which would be an adornment for the wearer, beautiful ornaments, which would be an enhancement in the home. And perhaps in the most well-known and well-worn phraseology of Proverbs, these words that help are like golden apples in silver settings. Well, what are the characteristics of words that help? If the words that harm are reckless, unguarded, and too numerous, how about employing words to help?
What will they be marked by? Well, let me tell you without expansion. Number one, they need always to be honest words. Honest words. Kings take pleasure in honest lips.
They value a man who speaks the truth. Secondly, they need to be thought-out words. The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. What a great verb!
Gushes evil. The difference between the circumspect use of language and the completely unbridled, reckless use of terminology. Just someone whose mouth is like the opening up of a fire hydrant on an afternoon, and it's all of a sudden, it's everywhere and over everybody. Someone says, I had a question about such-and-such, and instead of simply getting a word, they get a dictionary. I had this happen to me just the other day.
It was actually humorous at the time and a little painful. Someone asked me about a tag on my golf bag. They asked me to pronounce the word. And then I told them that it was an Indian word, and then I told them what the Indian word meant, and I told them how it related to a pigeon that was now extinct in the Smithsonian Institute, and a man had made… And I was well into this, and the person who'd asked the question, How do you pronounce the word?, I heard him saying from just off the tee, Well, that's a lot more information than I was looking for.
So I just kind of, like, dribbled to a conclusion and tried to hit the ball. But it's the difference between gushing and having an ordered response. The words that help will also be few rather than many. Solomon deals with this quite ironically in chapter 17, when he says, Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue.
Well, we know this from school, many of us, don't we? You sit in the chemistry class, you've got to make sure you sit next to the right person, somebody who knows what he's talking about, an intelligent group. Don't sit with the clowns, whatever they are. If you are a clown, move in with the rest and say absolutely nothing. Learn the art of nodding and shaking and the pursing of the lips and the deep thinking of the ramifications of these great theories.
And hopefully, volunteer nothing at all, because even a fool is thought wise if he stays silent. And you may be taken as discerning if you hold your tongue. The words also that help need to be the calm words, calming words that allow for a fair hearing and a dispute, calming words that allow tempers to cool, the calming soft tongue, which says, Solomon Proverbs 25, graphically, The soft tongue has the power to break the bone.
What an interesting statement! The soft tongue has the power to break the bone. You say, No, it doesn't.
How can a soft tongue break a bone? We think about it at the end of Romans 2. Do you not know that the kindness of the Lord Jesus is there to lead you to repentance? That it is his kindness in the face of our rebellion, that it is his tenderness in the face of our resistance, that may be used to melt our hearts as we say, This kind of love is amazing to me. The child says, My father should banish me from the house forever, but he spoke to me with softness, he spoke to me with tenderness, and I closed the door in my bedroom, and it was though he had broken all the bones in my body by the softness of his tongue. A gentle answer turns away wrath.
Proverbs 15.1. We're all confronted by unfairness, unfriendliness, unkindness, generally disagreeable people, because we ourselves contribute to the mixture. It takes far more to respond in gentleness than it does to give way to unbridled passion and anger. Boy, is this… I hope that you all find this distinctly uncomfortable.
Because speaking it is much worse. Some of you know me intimately. So I retreat with Dick Lucas. If you knew what I was really like, you'd never listen to me preach. If I knew what you were really like, I'd never preach to you. And there we are.
Sinners before the dictates of Scripture. A gentle answer. I could only think of one instance in my whole life. And the reason I thought of it was because it just came home to me as an encouragement in the last few days.
I don't tell you this to be self-serving in any way. Indeed, it is a judgment on me. It all happened about eleven or twelve years ago, but we had traveled into the Adirondack Mountains to go to the camp at which we spend time every summer. And I'd seen as we arrived on this initial occasion a sign coming into the town that said, Donuts and hot dogs. And I made a mental note immediately, and got up early in the morning and made my way, drawn by the allure of the sign. Because we'd traveled 450 miles the previous day, I gathered up all the rubbish that was in the car from the trip—it was extensive—and as much as my hands could hold, I then got out of the car and worked my way into this small building and to the donut lady and the donut man who were immediately on the left-hand side. Just a kind of booth with shelves and donuts and a waste paper basket, a garbage can. And so, I went, before saying anything, started to stuff my garbage in the can.
The lady, who was fairly fierce, said, Hey! Over the top of the counter, What are you doing? I said, Well, I was just… She said, Don't put your stuff in there. That's not for your stuff. If you have stuff that isn't donut stuff, that stuff goes down there. So you know this is a crisis in my life that is looming right here. And somehow, maybe because I was tired—I don't know if it was the grace of God—but somehow or another, I said, Okay.
Now, the reason I remember this is because this never happens to me. And so I went down the thing and put it in the big drum that was down at the end, and I came back, and I said, Okay, right, you know, here we go. It's cinnamon with the large coffee. And then the next day and the next day, and before the week was ended, we had not what you would call an intimate relationship, but at least there was a civility between us. Now, ten years have elapsed. Thursday, as I got ready to leave—I couldn't leave without going for my cinnamon—so I had a cinnamon don on a large coffee in the New York Times, and I was now sitting outside on an old picnic table.
And it was hot as it was here. And she says, You know, there's something you could do for me. I said, What's that? She said, Could you pray to God that my son would be reconciled to his wife?
I said, Well, I would be privileged to do that. She said, Because I have been praying to Saint Anthony, and he is really slow off the mark, and nothing is happening at all. And the opportunity to break through that crusty religious frame was not generated as a result of some slick methodology, but actually was ten years in the making. Finally, just a word about using words to hide. What I'm referring to here is the temptation to hide behind empty words. Sanctimonious jargon, pious platitudes, using words as a disguise for real heartfelt devotion. Says Solomon, mere talk leads only to poverty—financial poverty, relational poverty, spiritual poverty. He says, Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.
He says, You can't do it. You can't conceal it. You're not going to be able to disguise before God the reality of your character by thinking that you can take the earthenware part of your life and simply glaze it over with all the kinds of terminology that make people think that you're in the know and that you're on track. And there is nothing that creates this more in the realm of hypocrisy than within the framework of a religious environment.
And we become adept at hiding the poverty of our own spiritual life behind terminology—words that are a thin disguise. It's a peculiar danger that presents itself to all who are teachers. That's why James says, you know, if every southern mom wants all their boys to grow up as cowboys, as the country western song says, then every Jewish mom wants her boy to grow up as a rabbi. And James says, Don't force your boy to be a rabbi. Don't volunteer for the rabbi's job. Don't you become the teacher in the market square. Don't you, by any wrong motivation, sign up for that with a presumptuous heart, because let me tell you, he who teaches will be judged more strictly.
Isn't it amazing? It is to me that when God reveals himself in his uncearing, unblemished holiness to Isaiah the prophet—the prophet whose whole life is about his lips—when God makes himself known to Isaiah, he falls on his face, and what does he say? I am a man of unclean lips. In other words, the realm of my greatest giftedness is the arena of my deepest failure. Jesus warns that we will give an account for these things. Paul says to Timothy, I want you to be an example to the believers, first of all, in speech.
Not in preaching. In speech. George Herbert, the poet of some time ago, has a poem in this book that was just given to me by a friend called The Windows. Those of you who are poetry aficionados will be able to take this apart in a better way than I, but I think I get the point.
I'm not sure. Let me just read it to you. It's called The Windows. Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word? He is a brittle, crazy glass. Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford this glorious and transcendent place to be a window through thy grace. But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story, making thy life to shine within the holy preachers, then the light and glory more reverend grows, and more doth win, which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin. Doctrine and life, colors and light in one, when they combine and mingle, bring a strong regard and awe. But speech alone doth vanish like a flaring thing, and in the ear not conscience ring. Now, I think all that he's saying is this.
Unless in the teacher there is a closing of the gap between life and doctrine, then the teacher needs to go back to basics. Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees. He said, You're a bunch of talkers. You love it when people say, Oh, have you seen them doing their arms? Oh, have you seen them attending the services? Oh, have you listened to their prayers at the corner of the street? He says, If you live in such a way so as to hide behind the multitude of your words, enjoy your reward, because there never will be a reward on the day of judgment. And one of my teachers in London years ago put it in this way, Have you seen William Braggans while toiling in prayer? How he's pleading and weeping and tearing his hair? You can hear him all night, famous bellowing Bill, Because he shouts all his prayers from the top of a hill.
Bill has had his reward in the praises of men, And God's not going to give him it over again. Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress, which I've been reading again to my prophet, describes in a series of probably fourteen pages the conversation that ensues between faithful and talkative. Faithful is on his journey, as you know, to the heavenly city, and he comes across a fellow whose name is talkative.
And he says, Hey, do you mind if we walk together a wee bit? And talkative says, No, that would be absolutely fine. And talkative says, To talk of things that are good to me is very acceptable with you or with any other, and I am glad that I have met with those that incline to so good a work. For to speak the truth there are but few that care thus to spend their time as they are in their travels, but choose much rather to be speaking of things to no prophet, and this has been a trouble to me. Mm-hmm.
Very good. So faithful says, Well, what would you like to talk about? Well, talkative says, What you will. I will talk of things heavenly or things earthly, things moral or things evangelical, things sacred or things profane, things past or things to come, things foreign or things at home, things more essential or things circumstantial, provided that all be done to our prophet.
A little bit of gushing there, wouldn't you say? Faithful then meets Christian. Christian says to Faithful, What are you doing with him? Oh, says Faithful, this is a great guy.
His name is talkative. He seems to me a very pretty man. Says Christian, That is to them, that have not a thorough acquaintance with him. For he is best abroad, near home, he's ugly enough.
Your saying that he is a pretty man brings to my mind what I have observed in the work of the painter, whose pictures show best at a distance, but very near, more unpleasing. Religion has no place in his heart or house or conversation. All he has lies in his tongue. And his religion is to make a noise therewith.
In other words, the use of religious words to hide the absence of genuine religious Christian experience. And if all of that is not demanding enough, listen to Jesus as he says, We will all give an account on that day for every careless word we have spoken. And then he lays it down hard and heavy, By our words we will be acquitted, Or by our words we will be condemned. What does he mean by that?
Simply this. That you know a metal by its tinkle, You know a man by his talk, And our words and our works Achieve nothing for us before the gate of heaven, But our words and our works are the evidence That our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ Is true and not fake. And therefore, inasmuch as my words give testimony to where I stand before God, By my works, by your words, by my words, We will either be acquitted or we will be condemned. And then I find myself going back to the little poem that I say all the time and make a hash of it consistently. If all that we say in a single day with never a word left out were printed each night in clear, plain black and white, it would make strange reading, no doubt. And then, just suppose, before our eyes close, we should read the whole record through.
Then, when we sigh and when we try, a great deal less talking to do. And I more than half think that many a kink would be smoother in life's tangled thread if half what I say in a single day were to be left forever unsaid. Small wonder that when David faces up to all of this, he says, Set a guard over my words. Keep watch over the door of my lips.
Set a guard over my words. That's a prayer I think all of us can benefit from. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend.
That is Alistair Begg. He'll be back to close today's program with prayer in just a minute. You've probably heard the saying, if you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. The inference is that our words and actions should align if they're going to have any real value. And that's why we strive not only to teach the Bible on Truth for Life, but to show how it is relevant in today's world and help you apply it to your life. In addition to the daily Bible teaching that you hear on Truth for Life, we love finding books we can recommend to you that will help you learn about different aspects of Christianity.
And if you like history, there's a great book you'll want to request. It's called How Christianity Transformed the World. It takes a sweep through the centuries highlighting different people whose Christian faith helped shape the world we live in now.
You can learn more about the book How Christianity Transformed the World when you go to the Truth for Life app or visit our website truthforlife.org. Now, here is Alistair. Father, your Word searches us and tries us, knows us, cleanses from our sin, Lord. Put your power within, Lord. Take us as we are, Lord, and make us all your own. Keep us day by day, Lord, underneath your sway.
Lord, make our hearts your palace and your royal throne. Forgive us when our words so recklessly and unguardedly and profusely harm. Help us that our words may heal and help. And expose us, Lord, if we're using religious words to hide behind, making ourselves and others think that we know you and love you and trust you and have repented and come to faith in you, when in fact all we've done is just bought a bunch of religious jargon, and we're a saint in the services, and we're a devil at home. Look upon us in your mercy, we pray, and may your grace and that same mercy, the love that comes from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may it rest upon and remain with each one who believes, today and forevermore. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening this weekend. We hope you'll join us again next weekend when we'll learn how good and beautiful things that God has provided for us are perverted when they're used at the wrong time in the wrong place by the wrong person. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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