November 21, 2011

Sticks and stones and hurtful words

Yesterday’s Bible study was about speaking the truth. I’d not planned to, but during the class was prompted to read a page from the book mentioned in yesterday’s post. One of the women in the class said that it seemed as if God was speaking through the words read and suggested we start a book club and make this book the first one every person reads.

Truth and words have great power if rightly used. It isn’t enough to say (or write) what is true, but to say it as the Spirit of God motivates and leads. When a Spirit-filled person says words that God gives them to say, lives are changed. Spurgeon says the same thing in his devotional for today. It is based on one of these verses . . . 

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25–32)
Notice the focus on speaking truth and allowing God to rule in our relationships. No lies, properly dealing with anger, sharing not stealing, edifying words not harmful speech, and blessing others rather than harming them.

The Bible describes the capacity of our tongue in many other places. Proverbs says that it holds the power of life and death. James says it can be like a small rudder turning a big ship, or like a destructive fire. He also says no one can control it.

We know the struggle. We talk too much, or say the wrong thing, or spread gossip, or rile others — with our tongues. Feelings are hurt, friendships ruined, marriages put adrift, business relationships strained, all because we cannot put adequate controls on our words. Research says physical abuse does not stay in with a person nearly as long as verbal abuse. Words do hurt and such destruction is not only painful, but difficult to turn around and take back. Once the damage is done, it is almost impossible to repair.

For this, Spurgeon focuses on the short phrase that says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” He knows, and I am learning, that the only way to control our tongues by walking in the Spirit, by being filled with the Spirit, by obeying Him instead of our fleshy and sinful impulses.

He says just as all blessings flow to me through the Holy Spirit, “so also no good thing can come out of you in holy thought, devout worship, or gracious act, apart from the sanctifying operation of the same Spirit.” I have Jesus Christ in my life, but even then, His life lies dormant in me unless the Spirit of God is at work to bring it forth. I cannot speak for Jesus unless the Holy Ghost touches my tongue.

The Bible is clear on this matter. I cannot even pray as I ought without the help of the Holy Spirit, never mind subdue sin, be holy or imitate Christ. If I want to be zealous for Christ and His kingdom, then I must recognize that without Jesus, I can do nothing. I am a dead branch unless I am abiding in the vine, without fruit and without the vibrant life God gives through his Spirit.

This short verse means I can cause grief to God’s Spirit. Other verses say that I can also provoke Him to anger by my sin and “quench” Him by refusing to listen and obey. How vital to my spiritual life to heed every prompting and attempt nothing without the Holy Spirit. How often I begin a project without imploring His blessing, never mind finding out if this is what He wants from me. How often I enter into something with zeal instead of realizing that His strength is perfected in weakness. Do I stop to think that my zeal could be an indication that He is not with me, and the ideas are merely my own?

Just as truth and words have great power, so also does the Holy Spirit. To speak truth (or do anything) apart from Him is almost always damaging. To even talk at all without the Spirit guiding what I say can prove that the tongue has deadly power and is not only harmful to others, but grieves the Spirit of God.

Father, again I realize that You have good reason to tell me to “Be still” for what I say needs to be at Your prompting. Otherwise my words can be useless at best or corrupt and harmful at worst. Grant me grace to listen to Your leading and speak only when You speak to me.

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