Our tongue has more influence on people than our income, our figure, our face, our wardrobe, our car, and our home combined. Our tongues can mend a marriage or tear it apart. Our tongues can heal a church or destroy it. So how beautiful is your tongue? Find out now as Stephen continues his series, "Down from Sinai."
“COSMETICS FOR THE TONGUE!”
How beautiful is your tongue? Don’t show me, keep it in! We never think of our tongue in terms of attractiveness. It’s not something that you would make an appointment for with a tongue beautician. It’s something that Avon and Revlon have ignored in cosmetics. One nice thing is, you don’t have to diet to get it back in shape. In fact, it always is. And yet, it is our tongue, more than our income, our figure, our face, our wardrobe, our car, our home that makes all of the difference in the world. It is a tongue that can mend a marriage or tear it apart. It is the tongue that can heal a church or destroy it. It is the tongue that makes a home a paradise or a howling desert. It is the tongue that makes the difference. Psychologists have estimated, and I feel sorry for the psychologist that has nothing to do but estimate this but, we have 700 opportunities a week to speak. Some of us still speak 800 times but there are about 700 opportunities. We construct 12,000 sentences every week, 50,000 words. We have a 150 page volume, authored by our tongue, every single week. I could replace my library of 1,300 volumes in no time, just by things that I create with my tongue.
Now, in our country, we hear about the freedom of speech. And that’s wonderful but you never hear about that in scripture. In fact, what you find in scripture is, the regulation of how we use our speech. Of the ten commands that we will have studied by the time we have finished, two of them deal with the regulation of our speech. The first is the third commandment, and that is, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. That is, you are to respect and to honor and to protect His character and His reputation. This command, that we’re going to study this morning, talks about protecting the reputation of other people. So take your Bibles, please, and turn with me to Exodus, chapter 20. Exodus, chapter 20, verse 16. We’ll read these words, I suggest you follow along in your notes, if you have worship folders, they may be helpful to you. Exodus, chapter 20, verse 16, says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The word “witness” is “ed,” it could be translated “evidence,” “don’t give false, dishonest evidence against your neighbor.” Now, specifically, this command is referring to the courtroom setting. And, if anyone was to take the witness stand, they were not to give false evidence, false testimony toward their neighbor. They were, specifically, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is the specific interpretation of this command. So by the time you make a principle of it, it is this, don’t be dishonest, tell the truth with your tongue.
One great commentator, that I enjoy reading, calls or categorizes, what he says, nine lies of the tongue. He says, “The tongue has nine lies.” And, I think, you could fit any dishonesty under one of these nine categories. Let me give them to you, if you’re jotting down these notes. Number one, there is the lie of malice. That is, the lie to get revenge. A lie that I give so that I can get back at somebody or something. And I distort the truth, I tell an untruth. I’m dishonest so that I can somehow swing back. The lie of malice.
There is the lie of fear. That’s to escape punishment. We learned that at a very early age, did we not? How to lie so that I can avoid punishment. We do that at college too. We tell the professor three good reasons why the term paper isn’t finished and all three are lies. We tell the policeman why he stopped us and we were the wrong person. In fact, we couldn’t have been going 65 in 55 and here are the reasons why. We lie to avoid punishment. We don’t like punishment. And so, sometimes, we will consider telling a lie to get away from it. That’s one of the categories.
There is also the lie for prophet. We’re coming up to tax time. There will be people who will lie, on that little sheet of paper that we send to the IRS, for prophet. I read, this past week, of a woman who won the marathon, a recent major marathon. And it was really interesting because they started checking into this woman’s history and discovered that her practicing for the marathon included a couple of miles on her exercise bicycle and, maybe, jogging once or twice a week. And so, they got suspicious. And, by the time they finished their searching, they had come up with enough witnesses to put the pieces together. This woman had started out the marathon with everybody else. Then she took a shortcut, hopped on a bus, and she took the bus just a couple of miles from the finish line, got off the bus, somehow got back on the track and won. And, for a week, she was the winner. She probably couldn’t run around the block twice but she won that marathon. Well, she is lying for prophet. We could take any type of prophet you want to think of, but that is a category of reasons we lie.
Let me give you another one, lying by way of silence. Leviticus, chapter 5, verse 1, broadens this. It says that, if you are silent and you have evidence towards someone’s character and you remain silent, you are considered, by scripture, a liar. Let’s apply that, if somebody says something on the job about Jesus Christ that’s not true, if you are silent, you’re a false witness for Christ. If someone says something about someone that you know and you remain silent, you are a false witness. Because of your silence, you’ve become a liar. Interesting category.
There’s also the lie of boasting. That’s to impress. That is, name dropping, “Oh yes, so-and-so, good friend of mine.” You run into that at work all the time, name dropping for the promotion. They don’t know that person well. The closest they came to that is, their neighbor baby-sat their uncle’s cousin, or something like that. But they’re dropping that to impress.
There is the lie of exaggeration. That is the lie that creeps into the marriage and the home where you will say something to your husband like, “You NEVER do this.” Exaggeration. He probably did it once. Or, “You ALWAYS do that.” Or the classic, “I have absolutely NOTHING to wear.” How did that get in there? Excuse me! The lie of boasting. The lie of exaggeration.
Let me give you another one, the lie of insincerity. “You need help, just call me, I’ll help you.” “Boy, I hope they don’t call.” “I’ll pray for you.” Oh yea? The lie of insincerity can pervade the body like nothing else. Where we come in here with our little masks on and we are so insincere with each other, afraid that somebody might see what we are really like. We are liars, insincere.
Let me give you another one, there is the lie to self. You know the little conversations you have with yourself? You talk yourself out of doing something that’s right. You talk yourself into doing something that’s wrong.
There is also the lie to God. And that is the worst. My boys are old enough to know how to deceive but they’re not quite old enough to be clever at it. I was sitting in the living room, not long ago, reading and my peripheral vision caught a movement. And I just kind of ignored it, for awhile, until I noticed that it was one of my sons. He had his hand behind his back. He was watching, his eyes wide open. And he was kind of moving through the living room. And I looked up at him, and at that point in time I thought, “I don’t have a very intelligent son.” (laughter) And I said, “Son.” “SIR? SIR?” I said, “Come over here.” Of course he came over and we discovered what was behind his back. Ladies and gentlemen, has it ever struck you that you and I go to God with our hands behind our back? How ridiculous to go to the Lord in prayer even, or in worship, and our hands are fast clasping something behind our back that we’re not about to let go. We are lying to God. In fact, if we come to God in prayer, according to scripture, if we regard iniquity in our heart, what does God do? He doesn’t listen. Why? Because He’s like the father, that gives a son who obviously has something to hide, He’s waiting for the prayer of repentance. And until then, quit trying to fake God out. Lying to God. Those are the nine categories, if we tried to specifically apply the command of not bearing false witness, that is, don’t lie. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t lie to others. Don’t lie to God.
Now it means more than lying. Interestingly enough, in Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 16, the command is expanded to include slander. And by the time you add to that all of the passages of scripture in the talk about the tongue and the use of the tongue and the regulation of speech, you come up with tremendous principles of how we are to speak and when we are to speak and the way we are to speak. So this command covers a very broad spectrum. The regulation of speech.
Why is there so much scripture about it? I’m going to give you four reasons why. Four facts about a lying tongue that make it so important that scripture spells it out for us so we can’t miss it. Let me give you them. First of all, a lying tongue is an indication, note this, of hypocrisy. The book of James, chapter 1, verse 26. It’s as if James gets real close to the microphone and he leans in and he lowers his voice and he says, “There is a man among you that seems to be - “religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue . . . this man’s religion is worthless.” Now maybe no one else will ever discover it but at least we should. If we have a lying tongue, our religion is absolutely worthless. It’s an indication we are living hypocritical lives, if we can’t tell the truth.
Second, a lying tongue is a destroyer of friendship. Turn to Proverbs, chapter 17. Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 9. It destroys friendship like nothing else. Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 9, says, “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates” - note this - “intimate friends.” - or “very friends,” whatever your translation may say. In other words, that person who goes and uncovers the dirt and repeats it, or that person who casts doubt on the reputation or the character of another, that individual, by their tongue, has the power of separating intimate friends. Friends you would NEVER imagine being split up, you could NEVER imagine an offense between them. But there is a powerful tool that can split it up. It’s called the tongue. The repeating of an offense, a sin. “Did you know this about so-and-so? You know I heard this . . . I heard that . . .” So that, close friends begin to wonder. It separates intimate friends.
Let me give you an illustration of that, the power of the tongue in influencing people. This is almost too funny to believe. The B. B. C., for its British listeners, has a habit of every April fools day coming up with these outlandish little schemes to fool its listener. You would think that they would learn to expect it and yet, every year they somehow pull something off. There was an article printed in “American Way,” March 18, 1986, that I clipped out. At the B. B. C., Patrick Moore(?) was a guest and he was a British astronomer. Let me read you this. “He had Britain jumping up and down on an April 1st morning. He told B. B. C. listeners that, in the morning, the planet Pluto would pass directly behind Jupiter producing a slight gravitational pull on earth that would make everybody feel lighter.” Okay? Be sharp now. “He urged listeners to jump at precisely 9:47 a.m.” I’m reading this. I knew I’d better because you wouldn’t believe me. “By 9:48 a.m., the switchboards were blazing with delighted callers saying they had experienced a floating sensation when they jumped at exactly 9:47. One man complained he hit his head on the ceiling. One woman said her entire coffee group floated around the room.” Incredible! Now I know there are some people out there that are trying to make news but, I promise you, there are people out there that probably jumped and they felt like they went just a little higher than they’d ever gone in their lives. The power of influence, the power of that tongue to affect feelings and attitudes. That’s why it is so tremendous in light of friendship. Your tongue can influence the thoughts and the attitudes of someone toward a very close friend that they never thought they’d ever question. The power of the tongue.
Third, this is dealing with the church body, it is an obstruction to unity. An obstruction to unity. Colossians, chapter 3, verse 9, Paul says, in no disguised words, “Stop lying” - “to one another”. What a church that must have been. He writes and one of the first things off his pen is, “Would you people quit lying to each other.” And in the rest of the chapter, he urges them toward unity. The principle is this, the foundation for unity is honesty in the church of Jesus Christ.
Let me give you a fourth, a lying tongue is an invitation for God’s wrath. Turn back to Proverbs, chapter 6. Proverbs, chapter 6, verse 16, I want you to note carefully these words, the strength of these words. Solomon writes this, “There are six things which the Lord” - seriously dislikes, no - “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil,” - note - “a false witness who utters lies,” - and right on the heels of that one - “and one who spreads strife among brothers.” GOD HATES IT. Psalm, chapter 101, verse 5, says, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy”. We never realized it was so serious, did we?
Let’s apply the command. Let me give you some cosmetics for the tongue. These are simple words. These are not profound but I want them to ring through your mind when you’re tempted to open your mouth. Seven hundred times this week you’re going to have an opportunity. You’re going to phrase 12,000 sentences. You’re going to write a book this week. May that book include these characteristics. First, the cosmetic of truth. David writes in Psalm, chapter 141, verse 3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” It’s interesting, He’s asking God to post a sentinel, “post it right there by the corners of my mouth so that it’ll watch carefully anything that comes out.” What’s fascinating is, you discover in Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 15, what those two sentinels are. Now, note this carefully because this clears up some of the fuzziness. The first, he says, “speaking the truth”. The second, “in love”.
Now He isn’t saying, “Don’t confront. Don’t challenge.” In fact, I wonder what would have happened if you had written Paul? Let’s say you were with the Better Business Bureau and you were thinking of adding a business to your list. And this company writes in and says, “Hey, we’ve heard some wonderful things about Alexander the coppersmith and we’d like to include him on our board.” What would you say? Do you remember that? Where Paul said, Watch out for - “Alexander the coppersmith” - he - “did me” - more - “harm” - than anybody. And he wrote that. He’s speaking the truth. What about a church that has an elder up for position. And this church writes his former church and says, “We’d like some references. This guy seems like he’s a strong leader and what we need here in our church. His name is Diotrephes. What do you think?” What would you write? “Diotrephes . . . loves to have the preeminence”. That’s the truth. But, when you speak the truth, you’re to cloak it with what? With love. We’ve got a lot of talk now days about speaking love, talking love. Very little confrontation. Very little talk about holding people accountable, myself, yourself to the truths of scripture. We don’t love people that we don’t hold accountable to what this book teaches. So we speak the truth and yet, we speak it in love.
Second, let me give you another cosmetic, let’s call this one kindness. Kindness, being soft, speaking with soft answers. And let me give you some thoughts here. A soft answer defends without lashing back. A soft answer may disagree but it disagrees without criticizing. It may criticize the position, the philosophy, the point of view, the doctrine but never the person. I love the story of that woman who was so irritated at Winston Churchill that, after he spoke, she came rushing up to him and she said, “Mr. Churchill, if I were your wife, I’d put arsenic in your tea.” Churchill thought a moment and then he said, “Ma’am, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
Let me give you another cosmetic that may seem odd but let me explain it after I’ve said it. Silence. Proverbs, chapter 26, verse 20, says that it eliminates strife, “where there is no talebearer, the strife” - stops. Interesting. It not only eliminates strife but, it enhances worship. David said, in Psalm, chapter 46, he said, “Be still” - literally, stop striving, be quiet - “and know that I am God”. Sometimes we’re just yapping so much that we lose sight of the fact that we’re to worship God. He’s in control. So STOP and be quiet. The cosmetic of silence. Like the old sage who said, “I have often regretted my speech. I have never regretted my silence.”
Let me give you another, grace. Grace. Colossians, chapter 4, verse 6, says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with” - the flavor of - “salt”. Let me give you some seasoned words. And I want you to write these down and practice them. In fact, we’re going to practice some of them right here in this room. They’re not said often enough. The first is the word, “Please.” You see, when you say, “Please,” you view someone as a person and not as an object or a means to your end. And that’s why we, at our table, began very early with our children in teaching them to say, “Please,” because we’re not objects to them, we’re people. Say, “Please.”
Add to that one, “Thank-you.” Some of you husbands, it may have been a long time since you’ve thanked your wife for cooking for you. You ought to get in the habit of saying, “Thank-you, Honey, that was delicious.” If you can’t say it was delicious, say, “Thank-you, Honey.” “That was an unusual recipe,” or something. One waitress was talking about the fact that she hates working on Sunday. Sunday is the worst day in the week to work. It’s when you get the smallest tips and the most complaints. You’d probably give some of these waitresses coronaries, this afternoon, if we looked at them and said, “Hey, thanks, you did a terrific job.” Say, “Thank-you.” Can you say that? “Thank-you.” That’s great. Now somebody else. “Thank-you.” That’s half of you. “Thank-you.”
All right, let’s try one more. “I appreciate you.” The wheels of this ministry, the flavor of your life, the joy in your heart is created so often by words of appreciation. Someone comes up alongside of you and says, “Hey, I want you to know I appreciate you.” We do not hear that enough. Can you say that with me? Ready, one, two, three, “I appreciate you.” Fantastic.
Give you another. “I’m sorry.” Now that’s hard to say. It’s also hard to receive. Sometimes you don’t want to hear it. And so somebody says, “I’m sorry,” to you and you retort back with, “You said it,” or “You sure are,” or something like that. It’s not only hard to say, sometimes it’s very difficult to receive but, it needs to be in our vocabulary. “I’m sorry. I am not infallible.” Some of us haven’t discovered that and we never say it. “I’m sorry.”
And here’s another along that line, three words, “I forgive you.” There may be a marriage here that would be healed if those words were spoken. There may be a relationship between a son and a father, a daughter and a mother, close friends that would be restored if those words were spoken. “I forgive you.” These are words of grace. And, I think, the reason Paul said they are grace is because grace is the result of the Holy Spirit working in your heart. Apart from the Holy Spirit, no way. This is a divine work in our hearts.
Let me give you one more. “I’m praying for you.” Now, mean it. “I’m praying for you.” I’ll never forget, as a college student, preaching in a church in Georgia, doing my very best, gave them all I had. After the service I went down to the front and people greeted and we shook hands and it was my first time there and my last time there. I don’t know what that meant but I never got invited to come back. But I’ll never forget this one man who came up to me. He had clear eyes. I’ve never seen him again. And he said, “Son, I want you to know, every day, for the rest of my life, I’m going to pray for you.” Man, that rocked me. I want to see that guy in heaven one day, I believe he meant it. One of the greatest thrills is when people in this congregation say, “Hey, I’m praying for you.” Man, keep it up! I’m praying for you too. We need to pray for each other. We need to uphold each other. We’re in battle. And the reinforcement comes and the strength comes on those prayers that we offer in behalf of each other.
So when Moses wrote, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” He’s saying to tell the truth. Leviticus expands it so that you don’t slander. We turn it over and we look at the positive side and we see where God is exhorting and regulating our speech to be one of encouragement, one of edification. We are to season our words with truth, with kindness, with grace.
I love the story of ancient Greece where a young man said something very harsh about someone else, only to discover later that it was untrue. And he went to his wise teacher and he said, “Master, I have spoken harsh words. What can I do to right the wrong?” His teacher said, “Go and find a sack and fill it with feathers. And tonight, after everyone has retired, I want you to go all around this village and I want you to put a feather on each doorstep.” He was confused but he did it. He went around that entire village that night collecting feathers. And then, that night, as the sun sank, he went to each doorstep and he placed a feather on every doorstep, not knowing what he was doing or why. When he finished he went home, went to bed, got up the next morning and he came back to his teacher. And he said, “Master, I’ve done what you’ve said. Now what?” And his teacher said, “I want you to get your sack and I want you to go back and retrieve every feather.” And the young man said, “That’s impossible. There is no way I can retrieve every feather. The wind has come up during the night, people have been walking, animals moving. It’s impossible.” And the teacher said, “That’s exactly the point. Words are very easy to speak, they are impossible to completely retrieve.” Let’s pray.