The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
This lesson is part of a series called “What Does It Mean To Be A Christian”. To see an overview of this series, click HERE.
Here are a couple of questions for you: Do words really matter? How does the way someone talk reflect on who they are? How do you view other people differently based on how they talk?
Words are so easy to treat casually, yet they can cause so much damage is not handled with care. Words are like matchsticks. They are brittle and cheap. You don’t really value any single word that comes from your mouth, yet in the hands of someone talented, it can be used to cause even the hardest metal to mend. Misused, it can catch a forest on fire. Similarly, words are so carelessly spoken, yet they are capable of wonderful and horrible things.
As Christians, it is incumbent on us to ensure we are using words in a way that glorifies God. It’s a task easier said than done, especially in the hyper-sensitive world in which we live today.
Tonight we will look at two aspects of speech. The first is how we speak TO EACH OTHER and the second is how we speak ABOUT GOD. As I was performing my Bible study for this lesson, I was immediately drawn to Solomon. Widely regarded was the wisest, and perhaps wealthiest, man to have ever walked the earth, Solomon wrote extensively about how we speak to each other and how we speak to God. For these nuggets of wisdom, we’ll turn to PROVERBS AND ECCLESIASTES.
Let’s first tackle how we use words to speak to each other. Turn to Proverbs 16:23-24, 27-29.
The heart of a wise person instructs his mouth;
it adds learning to his speech.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb:
sweet to the taste and health to the body.
A worthless person digs up evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.
A contrary person spreads conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends.
A violent person lures his neighbor,
leading him on a path that is not good. (Proverbs 16:23-24, 27-29)
This section looks at good and bad speech and gives insights into the impacts of both.
First take a look at positive speech. In verses 23-24, Solomon describes this speech as “SWEET TO THE TASTE” and “HEALTH TO THE BODY“. What exactly do “sweet” and “health” mean in this context? When I read these verses, “sweet” makes me think of candy. Some people like certain types of candy and it just gives you a happy feeling inside. Some researchers have said that candy even gives you a hormonal release that makes you feel good emotionally! That’s how I think of the “sweet to the taste” line. When we speak positively towards others, we give other people “sweet” or pleasant EMOTIONAL feelings. The meaning of “health” might be a little more obvious. Have you ever heard of someone worrying themselves sick or being so depressed that they physically got ill? This is what’s called a psychosomatic affect where they state of the mind can impact the body. That’s what this part of verses 23-24 make me think of; speaking positively towards others has a PSYCHOLOGICAL impact.
Now let’s take a look at negative speech. In verses 27-29, Solomon doesn’t mince words. He describes negative speech as WORTHLESS, CONTRARY, and VIOLENT. These are, clearly, not good things. Apply this to the speech in your own life. Is your speech sweet to the taste and health to the body or do you tend to sound contrary (meaning you constantly disagree with others)? Are you overly aggressive and violent? Does the way you approach speech have worth or does it cause people to feel worthless?
If all of that wasn’t enough, ask yourself this: does your speech reflect the type of sweetness and health Christ encouraged and shared or does it sound more worthless, contrary, and violent like the Pharisees who hunted him down? Words aren’t “just words”. If we are living lives that reflect that of Christ, the things coming out of our mouths should sound a lot like Christ.
Often when we talk about speech, we focus on speech between people, but that’s not the only speech you should be having on a regular basis. We’re after relationships with God, not just converts in name only! If you have that relationship, conversation with God is a part of it. That means prayer, worship, and conversation with others about God. What does the Bible have to say about this kind of speech?
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to approach in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Just as dreams accompany much labor, so also a fool’s voice comes with many words. When you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because he does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth bring guilt on you, and do not say in the presence of the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands? For many dreams bring futility, so do many words. Therefore, fear God. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)
Ecclesiastes is a great book because it comes across as being very “real”; it doesn’t candy coat things. Just look at how Solomon describes people who speech jokingly or disrespectfully of God in verse 1. He says that those who are treating God’s name flippantly, or without sincerity, are IGNORANTLY WRONG. I really, really like this phrase. It implies that you aren’t being malicious in your disrespect, but it is disrespect nonetheless. Imagine you spent all day baking a cake. You learned how to bake and decorate and spent ever ounce of your mental energy making that stupid cake look beautiful. You’re proud of that cake. You take it to church and someone near you comments that it looks like a child made it. Someone else says it doesn’t taste good at all. They don’t necessarily know you are listening or that you put a ton of effort into the cake, but they’re still hurting your feelings. This is how we treat God when we act like His name doesn’t matter. We commit a wrong against God through our ignorance. Just as in the situation with church goers and the cake, you hope that those individuals start acting nicer when they realize their error. In the same way, we have to acknowledge how we speak about God and realize that we are ignorantly committing wrong when we speak too casually of His name.
There is a warning that goes along with the “ignorant wrong” verse, and that’s found in verse 6: Don’t let YOUR MOUNT BRING GUILT ON YOU. It seems so easy. If something is going to make you guilty, just don’t say that thing. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple, especially if we’re used to referring to God a certain way and those around us don’t take God seriously. How, then, do we keep from ignorantly committing wrong and bringing guilt on ourselves? That’s where realizing who God is and being accountable to that God comes into play. Take a look at verse 7: Therefore, FEAR GOD. There is a type of fear that causes us to stand in reverent aw of who God is and what He has done. That is the “fear” Solomon is referring to. It’s similar to the first time I stood feed away from a naval gun system and listened to the guns open fire. I stood in fearful respect of those guns’ power. Likewise, we know who God is and what God has done and will do. Therefore, we should stand in awe-inspired fear of our God, guarding our words in how we speak to others and how we speak to and about our awesome God.