Let's Talk Week 2: Formerly... But Now
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Hmm. You know, that song isn’t really true. Words do hurt more than people know, but they also can heal. I wonder why I haven’t thought about how powerful they can be. So, I’ve given my life to Christ. I wonder why we pick and choose the things we think make us Christians the way we do? Scripture has a lot to say about the way Christians talk. I wonder why we don’t talk about that? Sometimes we forget how powerful words really are, so let’s dialogue. Let’s unpack this together. Let’s talk.
Well, it’s good to see everyone. I also want to recognize those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re in a series called “Let’s Talk.” The idea, or where we’re sort of going with the series, is that words are incredibly powerful. We need to know what Scripture says about how we use our words. I think most of us, if we stop for a moment, realize that the words that we speak really do affect things. In marriages, for instance, the number one problem, whether you know this or not, is communication. So many marriages have been destroyed because of words. Things that have been said, accusations and all that stuff. We may experience that with friendships.
You may have had friendships where things have been said, you said something or someone said something and it just eroded the relationship. There are people that don’t go to church anymore because somebody hurt their feelings with words, or maybe somebody that does what I do, a pastor said something and hurt somebody’s feelings and they don’t go to church anymore. I mean, words are powerful.
As we talk about, as being Christians, trying to become more like Jesus, it falls sort of under a topic that we don’t really talk about that much anymore. This idea of personal sanctification. This idea that the Scripture doesn’t just sort of suggest or hope that we become more like Jesus. In fact, it’s sort of expected in Scripture that we would become more like God in the things that we do; that there would be growth in us. You see it in the letter to the Hebrews. The writer says, “By this time, I would’ve thought that you would be teaching people about the Lord, but I’ve got to go back and now instruct you again.” So, there was this idea that they should have grown into something, but they didn’t.
Paul says to the church in Corinthians, in Corinthians 3, “I can’t give you more substantial food to eat right now because you’re still drinking milk.” So, Paul’s not trying to be negative, he’s just saying there should’ve been some growth in people’s lives. And you can see that all through Scripture. So, here’s what’s interesting. What we do talk about, like personal sanctification, and moving more towards what God wants us to be, we often think in terms like, you know, “I shouldn’t go here,” or, “I shouldn’t see that person,” or, “Maybe I shouldn’t drink that, chew this or cuss,” or whatever it is, and you’ve got this idea. What I don’t know that we’re aware of, and it’s why we’re having the conversation that we’re having in this series, is that when we start looking at these passages in Scripture where there’s ethical admonition, where we’re being told, “Hey, look, this is what it looks like to look more like Jesus. This is what it looks like to grow in our relationship with God.”
Would you believe that many of those passages, when you read them, have a lot to do with the way that we speak; the way that we talk to one another? That may be a little foreign in some ways, but what I want to do is I want to look at a passage today. We’re going to go through quite a bit of verses today. So, it will be a little bit more of a teaching this weekend. What I want to do is look at that, but before I get to that passage and we go through that where there’s clearly suggestions here of how we can become more like Jesus, and that we should look more like Jesus, I want to sort of give you a background.
If you were to ask me as a pastor, or if I was in a class teaching and somebody said, “Hey, what’s the best book to read for this? I want to know about the deity of Christ,” or, “I want to know how to deal with persecution,” or, “I want to know how to deal with whatever,” I could probably lead you or guide you into whatever. But if you asked me, “I want to know something about the Church. What is the place I can go for the Church?” I would tell you there’s one letter that we have in the New Testament that is dealing with the Church from beginning to end. I mean, it’s really all about the Church. That’s a letter that was written to the church at Ephesus. So, we call it Ephesians in Scripture.
This letter, which is six chapters, is dealing completely, everywhere you go, it’s talking about the Church. Even when Paul talks about husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, he says, “But I’m really talking about the Church.” I mean, everything in this book is about the Church. So, he starts off in Ephesians 1 and says, “Hey, listen, God’s got this great plan. He’s had this plan before the foundation of the world. God works all things after the counsel of His own will. He has chosen and He has predestined for us to live before Him in blamelessness and holiness. He’s sealed us with the Spirit of God.”
By the time you get to the end of Ephesians 1:23, you realize that God’s done all of these things because what He wants to do is He wants to declare His glory and express His fullness through what Paul calls the Church. Through the Church, God is going to fill all in all. Then, in Ephesians 2, what he does is he talks about how we sort of got into the Church and what the Church looks like. Because he says, “All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. None of us weren’t that. But God, in His rich love and mercy, has made us alive to be with Him. It’s by grace, His grace, through faith in Him, not of works, lest anyone should boast, that we are saved.”
You don’t jump through hoops and do all this stuff to become a Christian. It’s believing in God, it’s faith, and it’s because of His grace towards you and me. And because that is the entry position of the Church, then what’s happened is this old tension between Jew and Gentile, the wall of partition has been torn down and the two have become one. Paul says that they are one body, which is His Church, God’s Church. So, now it’s not about where you came from, what nationality or all this. Everybody has an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing. Then, in Ephesians 3, he says that through the Church God is going to make known His manifold grace and wisdom to all, even the principalities and powers in the cosmic world. It’s like, “Whoa.” So, Paul stops there and he’s like, “Let me stop and just pray for a moment that you guys would understand how great God’s love is towards you in Christ. The depth, the breadth, the height and the width and all that, because what God wants to do is immeasurably more, exceedingly, abundantly above all that you could ever ask or think.”
So, what he’s done in the first three chapters — we can call it doctrinal statements or we can call it theological statements. In the world of scholarship, we call it the Pauline indicative. In other words, it’s sort of who we are. Paul never starts with go do something so that you can be something. Paul and the New Testament writers start with what we are in Christ and then we live that out in our life. So, it’s not do to be. It’s because of being who we are in Christ that we do, which is why in Ephesians 4:1, he says, “What I want you to do now is I want you to walk worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called.” In other words, “I just told you all that you were in Christ. I gave you all that you were. Now what I want you to do is I want you to walk that out. You’re one of God’s children. You’re holy. You’re righteous. You’re redeemed. You’re all of those things. So, now, just live it.”
That’s why Paul, when he talks to churches like the Corinthians, he’s like, “Why are you doing this?” He’s not saying why are you doing this because he’s trying to give them a hard time. He’s like, “Why are you doing this? This is just not who you are. You’re not these people. You look like you used to be, but you’re not those people anymore.”
So, he says, “I want you to walk this thing out and I want you to be what you are.” Then, in Pauline digression, he sort of just takes a little curveball and talks about some apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers that equip saints for the work of ministry. He gets a little bit of ADHD. Thank God, because I have it, too. Squirrel. So, by the time he gets to Ephesians 4:17, which is where we’re going to start today, he’s picked back up this idea of walking.
He says, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”
Now, this is an interesting phrase that he uses because the people that are in Ephesus, by and large, would have been Gentiles. Which is sort of strange because he’s like, “Don’t walk as the Gentiles do.” What he’s saying to them is, “You’re no longer defined by that entity. You are part of God’s Church. You are the people of God. You are the Israel of God. You are the people that God has chosen. There’s no longer a wall of partition. It’s one group together.”
He goes, “So, don’t walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”
“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
So, what Paul is saying is, “Hey, listen, when you think about the way that you were formerly, what you were is walking in a way that was alienated from God, darkened, living in ignorance and doing whatever you wanted to do in any way that you wanted to do it. Whatever sensuality, whatever greed or whatever came up for you, you just did whatever you wanted to do. That’s how it was. But see, what’s happened is you have been changed. You’ve had a new creation that’s happened. God has arrested you and changed you into something different.”
That’s why he says next, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
In other words, you didn’t learn Christ to just do whatever you want to do, be whatever you want to be, live however you want to live. No consequences, no anything and just doing whatever you want to do. He says, “That is not the way you learned Christ!” Notice here he doesn’t say, “That’s not the way you learned about Christ,” as if learning Christ is some doctoral thing, like if you just check off these things, now you’ve learned about Christ. He says, “No. That’s not how you learned Christ!” In other words, this is a relationship. You have entered into really knowing this person, Christ. He goes, “You didn’t learn Christ that way! You learned Christ differently.” He’s going to tell us what we learned when we learned Christ.
I want to just stop for a moment here and just pause and say this is really huge that we understand this part of our Christianity. Being a Christian is not about getting things right and believe the right codes, creeds or whatever. Being a Christian is having a relationship with God in Christ Jesus. It’s about relationship. It’s not about religion. It’s about relationship. That’s why Jesus says, in Matthew 7, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.” He doesn’t say, “Because you didn’t do this right, you didn’t jump through this hoop, you didn’t believe this, you didn’t read this translation of the Bible and you didn’t go to this church.” He doesn’t say that at all. He says, “Depart from me. I never knew you.”
In other words, there was no relationship there. He says, “So, this is not the way you learned Christ. You learned Christ differently.” Then he says this. It’s a little aside.
He said, “Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him,”
This is people that Paul hasn’t visited in years, so they’ve got some people there that he’s writing to that may not have actually known Christ in the right way.
He doesn’t know that, but he says, “Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,”
So, what is the truth in Jesus? You formerly were this way, living in darkness, living alienated, living in ignorance, doing whatever you wanted to do and following whatever course of action that you wanted to do, but you didn’t learn Christ that way. Here’s the truth that’s in Jesus:
“To put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
So, let’s sort of loo back at what we’ve just talked about here. He says, “Formerly, you were corrupt through deceitful desires.” In other words, you did whatever you wanted to do, whatever felt right, whatever you thought, whatever thing you thought, whatever truth you thought. You just sort of did what you did. But you learned Christ. When you learned Christ, you learned the truth that’s in Jesus that you’re putting off the old, putting off the former — this is what you were formerly. But now you’ve been created in the likeness of God in true holiness and righteousness.
In other words, this is the truth in Jesus: There’s a change in you and me from what we were to what we are. Whether we think that, whether we experience that, whether we really take inventory of it, the fact of the matter is when we decided that we were going to follow Jesus, and we engaged in that relationship with Jesus, we went under those waters of baptism and came up out of those waters of baptism, there was a newness that happened in you and me. Paul says, “This is the truth that’s in Jesus. When you met Christ, you’re not just going to continue to do what you did. There is a change that happens in you and I’s lives.”
But he says that the change is in true righteousness and holiness. We’ve got to stop here for a second because when we read Scripture — and it’s one of the challenges that you have as a pastor, as a professor, and especially in the American or Western Church, it’s trying to define holiness and righteousness because we have these ideas of what we think holiness and righteousness are. In the Western Church, the idea of holiness and righteousness is what I don’t do. In other words, “I’m holy because I don’t do that. I’m holy because I don’t do that. I’m holy because I don’t do that. I’m righteous because I don’t do that.”
Well, inevitably, what that does is that creates an “us versus them” mentality, which pushes people away and makes us feel like we’re better. That is not what holiness and righteousness is in Scripture, especially not in the Old Testament, which is what Paul is drawing from in a lot of the things that he writes. Holiness is found in a great passage for holiness in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19. God says to Moses, “Be holy as I am holy.” You would think, “Okay, what does that look like?” He says, “Well, honor your father and mother. Don’t treat this person bad. Don’t do this to an alien and stranger. Live this way towards these people. Don’t do this towards somebody’s wife.”
You’re going, “Hold on. Holiness?” Yeah. Holiness in the Old Testament is relational. In other words, the extant that we’re holy is not what we don’t do. It’s the way that we treat others. Just like righteousness. In just a few weeks, we’re going to be doing Christmas again. Is that just a mind trip to me? Like, “Christmas again? Seriously?” It’s like it comes every year. What is wrong with this thing?
So, Christmas is going to come up and we’re going to talk about Mary, Joseph and all this stuff. Notice in Scripture it says Joseph was a righteous man. Well, why was he righteous? Because he wanted to put Mary away privately. See, his righteousness was exposed in the way he treated someone else. Holiness and righteousness are how we love God and how we love others. Holiness is not, “I’m not going to go do that.”
So, I’m a married man. I’m married to Mindy. Let’s say I go, “I’m a holy man because I didn’t go see this lady over here. I’m holy.” Even though if I thought about it, Jesus said it’s basically the same as doing it. No. Holiness says, “I value my wife and I value that person’s wife so much that I would never do anything to compromise that relationship. It’s not what I didn’t do, it’s the dignity and value that I give to others, which is really important here. Listen, it goes back to what Jesus says. Love God, love people. Love God, love people. “Well, I don’t like those people.” Love God, love people. What’s hard to understand about that? “I don’t like those people.” Love God, love people. That’s what we’re told to do.
So, in loving God and loving people, we’re told something very true by John that our vertical relationship with God is always told by how our horizontal relationship with people is. “You cannot say you love God whom you can’t see,” John says, “if you cannot love your brother whom you can see.” So, this idea of holiness in which we’re going to get into here in just a second because Paul flows right into here — that’s the reason he said this. It’s the reason he said, “Let me explain to you what’s going on. You used to be this way. Now you’re this way. You’ve put off the old self and you’re putting on the new self that’s created in the holiness and righteousness of God. Let’s look at how that would look in our lives as we become more like Jesus.”
So, what does Paul say? He says, “Therefore.” In other words, “Everything I’ve just told you, I’m getting ready now to tell you how we apply what I’ve just told you.
He says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood,” — and we’re going to come back to this here in just a second. I want to give you the whole passage, and then we’re going to break it down.
He says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak...” — now we’re talking speech again, or words — “...the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
Now, you may have heard somewhere in church — and it wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t. You may have read it in a book. Somebody might have heard it on a YouTube channel, or somebody was talking to you and said, “Man, what the Church needs to do is we need to start speaking truth to people, which means we need to tell them when they’re doing wrong and we need to point out their whatever.”
Okay. That may be something that you think, and you may think that this is what this passage is saying. “We’re going to speak truth to people.” Okay. But here’s the problem, and it goes back to, once again, a deficiency in the Old Testament will always lead to a deficiency when reading the New Testament. Paul, when he says, “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor,” is quoting the Old Testament. So, we wouldn’t even know what this even means if we don’t know what the Old Testament passage means so that we can now put it in this perspective. Well, the passage comes from Zechariah 8. The passage in Zechariah 8 is where God is telling the prophet, “One day, I’m going to bring the marginalized, the poor, the needy, the oppressed and all those people out here that the people who are in power speak bad about and say things about — falsehoods — and all the negatives they say about whatever, I’m going to bring them all together. What we’re going to do is we’re going to then realize that each person has value and dignity, speaking the truth, not falsehoods. People have value and dignity because they’re neighbors and we’re members, one of another.”
So, what Paul is saying here is, “Hey, listen, as we start to look like Jesus, put off the old self and put on the new self. As we start to live and look more like Jesus, first thing is we’re going to learn that our words that maybe speak negative things about other people, that maybe look down upon someone because we don’t like the way they do things, or we accuse them, we’ve got to stop that. That’s falsehood because these are people that God created. What we need to do is we need to speak the truth to one another, which means they have value, they have dignity, they have worth because we’re members, one of another.”
The way we speak matters. James says it this way in James 3: “It shouldn’t be that out of our tongues come both blessing and cursing towards people that were created in the likeness of God.” He says, “These things ought not to be.” But it’s so easy when they’re not on my side, or they’re not seeing the world the way I see it, to say, “Oh, they’re no good. They’re bad. They’re this. They’re that.” You see it all the time in the public discourse today. Paul says, “Hey, as Christians that are trying to look like Jesus, what we want to do is we want to be like the people of Zechariah. We want to be the people that speak truth, one to another, because we’re members, one of another.”
Then he says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,”
And you hear this all the time. “That’s right. I’ve got a righteous indignation. I am righteously stirred to be angry, and the Bible tells me, ‘Be angry.’” Well, okay. That’s great. But be angry and don’t sin is a quotation from the Old Testament. So, before we can even know what that says, we have to know what the Old Testament says. In the Old Testament, it’s in Psalm 4. In Psalm 4, the “be angry and sin not” probably better reads, “Don’t be trembling, shaking or fretting,” because in the psalmist’s account, what’s going on is people have said things about him that are untrue, which has made him really agitated. He’s having a moment realizing that that agitation is going to lead to sin very quickly if he doesn’t get it under control and take it to God.
So, Paul says, “Hey, listen, we’re created in the holiness and righteousness of God.” This is others-focused. So, our words are no longer beating other people up with falsehoods, because that’s not true, because they are people that God has created and they have value. We need to stop speaking that way. We need to speak the truth to one another, which means we have value, dignity and worth. And when things are spoken about us, possibly, or things go on that really get us upset and we’re angry about it, we need to get rid of that very quickly so that we don’t sin. And don’t let the sun go down on your anger.
Why? Why is this true? Well, because we don’t want to give any opportunity to the devil. See, the devil loves to work in people who get angry at other people, who speak falsely against other people, who lower the dignity and value of other people that maybe don’t agree the way they see, or see it the way they do because of a bad understanding of holiness, that they’re bad and we’re good. That gives the devil room. And let me just tell you something as your pastor. I’m not trying to get on you. I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I’m not trying to be snarky or anything like this. But what I’m saying is in the world that we live in today, there are so many Christians that are angry at each other. They’re yelling at each other. They’re screaming at each other. They’re saying, “There’s no way you could be,” and whatever else. And let me tell you something: That is ruining the witness of the Church of God because it’s giving the devil an opportunity.
That’s better preaching than you all are letting on. So, give no opportunity to the devil. Let’s continue on here.
“Let the thief no longer steal,” — this might be the most beautiful passage of redemption in Scripture.
“Let the thief no longer steal,” — or take things with his hands; these hands that have been corrupt — “but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands,”
So, now these hands have been redeemed. The hands that stole are now the hands that are doing honest work. And if you were reading it through the lens of an American culture, you’d say, “Let the thief who stole, who got stuff, do honest work and do everything so that he can have his own stuff.” No. Because we’re called to be people of holiness and righteousness, which means we’re called to be others-focused.
“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 someone in need.”
Powerful. Let’s continue. Now we’re back to speech again.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,”
It’s like, “Dude, Paul, how about I don’t drink, I don’t cuss, I don’t chew and I don’t hang with people who do. You know what I’m talking about? Where’s that at?” He’s like, “No, no, no. We’re going to talk about our speech because we’re trying to look like Jesus. We’re not walking like we used to walk. We’re walking as Christians now. We’re walking this thing out and we’re going to look at the way we talk.”
He says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,”
What’s corrupting talk? Well, the original language is like rancid fish or dead food. So, don’t let any of that garbage come out of your mouth. Listen, this is incredible.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up,”
Can I just take a moment here? Can you imagine if every single one of us who says, “I’m in. I’m a Jesus follower,” if we would just absolutely not open our mouths unless we were building other people up? Think about that. Think about the power of that. You read Luke 15 and it says, “The tax collectors and the sinners were all gathered around Jesus.” That’s exactly the opposite of the way I was raised. I was raised that the tax collectors and sinners would be running from Jesus because He was out rebuking and telling everybody what they didn’t do and what they were doing wrong.
The tax collectors and sinners were all gathered around Jesus, wanting to hear what He had to say. It was the religious people that were grumbling. Why did they want to be around Him? Why did they want to be around Jesus? Because He spoke things about them that they’ve never heard. All they’d heard was they’re sinners, they’re no good, they’re prostitutes, they’re tax collectors, they’re terrible, they’re no good. God’s going to get them. God’s going to judge them.
Jesus comes along and says, “You’ve got value. You’ve got worth.” The woman caught in adultery? She doesn’t even say a word. He goes, “You’re forgiven.” Like, what? Doesn’t she have to repent? Doesn’t she have to do something? He goes, “Where are your accusers, woman? They’re gone. I don’t accuse you either. Go and sin no more.”
You’re like, “What? No accusation? Shouldn’t it be like, ‘Don’t sin and then I’ll accept you?’” We’ve got all these things that we think about. The reason people wanted to be around Jesus is because He actually made them feel, for the first time in their life, that they had value, worth and dignity.
He goes, “But only such as is good for building up,”
This is just crazy. There’s even more. Look at this.
“But only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion.”
It’s like, “So, hold on, my tongue has to be no corrupt talk, it’s got to be good for building up. But it’s not even just building up. I also need to make sure that if I’m going to speak a building up word, it needs to also be at the right time? Wow. Why?
“That it may give grace to those who hear.”
Because we’re to be people that speak life rather than speak death. This is incredible. Get up here and look at this. Here.
It says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,”
Whoa. You mean the words that I speak about others could grieve God? Man, if you want to have a moment here, it’s that. It’s like, “Man, our words are powerful.”
He says, “By whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
I mean, you’re one of God’s kids. You don’t want to grieve your parent. You don’t want to do that at all.
He says, “Let all...” — these are all speech terms. Let all bitter speech, wrathful speech, angry speech, clamoring speech and slandering speech — “[...] be put away from you, along with all malice.”
Here’s who we are: “Be kind to one another,” — kind, tender-hearted — “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
It’s like, “Man, that’s powerful.” That’s why I like to spend a lot of time reading Scripture up here. So, if you get mad, you can’t get mad at me. You’ve got to get mad at this. Because I want you to like me. I mean, I’m just being honest. “That Chip, he’s a good guy. It’s that Scripture that I don’t like.” Okay? That’s fine. But that’s what God says to you and me. As your pastor, it’s not my job to come in here and make you feel good. I want you to feel good. I want you to leave here going, “I can do this. God loves me,” and all that stuff. But I also want us to have a moment where we actually look in Scripture and go, “Okay. This is really what Scripture says.” What Scripture says is pretty profound. It really is profound about our words.
So, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about what we just read. Let’s have a moment. The first thing that I need to do though is I need to clarify something because I don’t want anybody to walk out of here today and go, “Oh, yeah. Pastor Chip, he got me. I probably shouldn’t post on Facebook some of the things that I say. I probably ought to speak a little bit nicer to my wife. I’m going to go home and try to control my tongue a little bit more.” That is not what I am trying to do today. That would be called self-help, like I’m trying to give you some message to encourage you to go out and do something.
So, the first thing that I want to talk about with you is the Gospel isn’t self-help. It’s not self-help. Let me explain what I mean by that. Self-help is about a better you. That’s what self-help’s about. We’re not having a moment here of self-help where I’m going, “Let me tell you how to be a better you so you can control your tongue better,” and whatever else. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the Gospel. The power of the Gospel. The Gospel that redeems. When you meet Christ, things change. Self-help is about a better you, but the Gospel is about a new creation. God has created you new in Christ. Like, your sins are forgiven. So, when you let your past control your today, you’re not listening to what God has said about you. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. The past is gone and you stand now completely in the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, which is why we’re supposed to do from who we are. We’re already holy, so we should just be holy. We’re already righteous, so we should be righteous. We’re already forgiven, so we ought to give forgiveness. We’re already one of God’s children, so we ought to act like it.
Did your mom and dad ever tell you, “You need to act like a Bennett?” Like, what does that mean? Seriously. Like, 19 people in a room, what does it mean to act like a Bennett? I have no idea. But there is a truth to what does it mean to live up to God and be like God? That’s actually what taking the Lord’s name in vain is, actually, if you want to know that. It’s not using a cuss word. Taking the name of the Lord in vain is ascribing to yourself the name of Yahweh and then not living up to what that means. You’ve taken His name, like in marriage, and then you’re not living up to what that means. That’s taking the name of the Lord in vain.
But what we want to do is we want to realize that we’re a new creation. God’s done things in you and me and we want to discover those things so that we can live them out. Self-help is all about what you can imagine. You know? You go to Barnes and Noble and you read the book, “I want to be this,” or, “I want to be that.” I can imagine what I want to be. The Gospel is about exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever think or imagine. I mean, God does things in us that we could never, ever, ever, ever, ever even think or imagine. Like, do you think David, when he showed up to see his — there’s an AMBER Alert. My watch keeps going off, too, telling me “AMBER Alert.” So, let’s see what the AMBER Alert says. It says, “Keep preaching.”
So, anyway, exceedingly more. David shows up and ends up slaying Goliath. But do you realize how David got there? I think sometimes we don’t think about that. His dad came to him and said, “I want you to run some food to your brothers.” He could’ve said, “I’m not doing that. I’m not serving nobody.” But it was because of the servant’s heart that he went to give his brothers food that put him on the frontline to accomplish something that he would’ve never even been able to think. That’s the way God is. It’s like, when we do it God’s way — and it’s sometimes maybe not the way that we think we should be doing, but we do it God’s way and honor Him, and He puts us in positions that are far more than we could ever even imagine. Because this isn’t self-help. Self-help is about the power of the will. Self-help’s about, “I’m going to pull my bootstraps up and make myself better, go at it and run that hill.” The Gospel is about the power of God that resides within you and me. The self-help is about becoming who we’re not. Like, “I’m not successful enough, so I’m going to become successful. I’m going to become this,” or whatever.
The Gospel is about becoming like Christ. So, let me put this in a nutshell so that you can understand why this is not me trying to tell you to go control your tongue, try to speak a little bit better, try to do a little bit more. This is about, “Hey, listen, this is who we are as Christians. Let’s live this thing out. Let’s be who we already are.”
This is the best way I can put it succinctly: God doesn’t make good people better. He makes dead people live. He’s not after a better you. He’s after you and me looking more like His Son. The reality is all of those things — Peter says it clear. He says, “All things pertaining to life and godliness have been given to you.” You have all those things. It’s discovering them and living out who you are as a Christian. You already are those things. It’s living them out.
Now that we’ve talked about that and we understand the difference between self-help and the Gospel, we have this: Although the Gospel is for the whole person, specific and intentional focus is put on our speech in this passage. This is what we do. I want to have an honest conversation here with everybody because this is important. We spend a lot of time arguing about what constitutes hate speech, freedom of speech or whatever else you want to put up here, but what about Christian speech? What about that? Because, see, here’s what we’re doing. Listen. Lean in here. This is really important.
What we’re doing is we’re taking something that’s out there in the world and is defined by the world as whatever speech thing it is, and then we’re taking it and pulling it in here and trying to Christianize it. “How does my filter take this and...”
We’re not ever called to do that. We’re called to say, “What does Scripture say?” Then we go out and live that in the world, not trying to figure out what the world’s doing. We’re just trying to do what God wants us to do out there in the world. That’s why when people give me these things and say, “Here’s positions and whatever. Which one are you? It’s so clear here.” I’m going, “No, no, no. You’re not going to have me take a position and then try to filter that position through Scripture. Get that chart out of here. I want to know what Scripture says and I’m going to go live that. That’s what I’m going to live.”
So, rather than trying to figure out what these mean in terms of being a Christian, let’s just talk about what does God want our tongue to look like when we speak? Well, He told us formerly, before we came to Christ, we said things about people that were untrue. “They’re terrible.” Well, they’re not completely terrible, and I’m terrible sometimes, too. Isn’t it funny how the judgment that you give towards somebody else is usually the judgment that’s pointing right back to you? Falsehood. You go, “Oh, they’re terrible.” Now you’re angry. Now you’re corrupting talk.
So, let me just give you the way this looks for Christians that have not realized that they formerly were this way, but now have been changed to this way. When you’re in front of your TV, the person that you don’t like is on, and you find yourself going, “Oh, they’re terrible. They’re no good,” and then you find yourself being angry, and then you find yourself getting on Facebook and saying, “These people are so bad. They’re terrible. They’re no good,” what you’ve done is you’ve been speaking in a way that was a former way of life. This is not the way God wants us to speak.
And, by the way, can I tell you something? I don’t think anybody’s ever put on the internet anything where somebody went, “Whoa, man. I’m going to change my mind because of what this person says.” No. What they do is they go unfriend, unfollow, and the 15 people that live in the same echo chamber that you live in like what you do and you go, “Ha! Look. The whole world sees it the way I see it.”
It’s not true. Okay? Just let me meddle a little bit here as your pastor. What we’re called to do instead is we’re called to be people of truth, which is speaking dignity and value, and kindness and edifying talk. That’s what it means to speak Christian. Let me say this to you. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this. In the New Testament, when the Spirit of God comes on people, every time — just remember this. So, like Zechariah doesn’t believe what happens. He can’t talk. When the Spirit of God comes onto Zechariah in the book of Luke, what happens? It says, “His tongue is loosed and he spoke.” When the Spirit of God comes on Elizabeth when she has John the Baptist and Mary show up, what happens? She speaks. When the Spirit of God comes on Mary, she sings a song. The Magnificat. When the Spirit of God comes upon the disciples in the upper room, 120 on the Day of Pentecost, what happens? They speak in other tongues.
Every time the Spirit comes on people, words are changed. In other words, as God lives in us, our words change. The things that we say change. So, here’s the best way I know how to do it. Let me give you some practical questions. Just some things that you can walk out with. And if you like to do this, that’s fine. A lot of people like to take their phone and take a picture of these things. You can take them home and think about them and talk about them with your spouse, with God, or with whatever. But these are some practical questions. We’ll end with this. Just some things that you can ask and say, “Hey, before I open my mouth, let me just ask this question. Then maybe I’ll be really speaking the way God wants me to speak.”
First one: Do my words bring healing? That’s a great question. Do they bring healing? When I speak, do they bring healing? Let me give you a Bible verse here.
It says, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Do you enjoy when you speak something and it’s like you’re getting into somebody? That’s not good, biblically. This is good, biblically. A is bad, B is good. Okay? Do you enjoy it when somebody else speaks about people and digs into people? “Yeah, get ‘em!” Okay. That’s not good. That’s bad. Good is the tongue of the wise brings healing. So, do my words bring healing? That’s a great place to start. Do they bring healing?
How about this question? Do I talk negative about people? When I talk about people, what type of negativity is coming out of my mouth? Because we were just told by Paul that all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, put away from you along with all malice. Be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving as God in Christ forgave you. So, obviously, we should be people that speak better about people than negative things about people.
I like what this pastor said. He said, “If we open our mouths and what comes out is something negative about another person, putting them in a bad light, then we must consider that it may be, and is most likely gossip.”
That’s just true. So, let me read you a poem to maybe make this really sink in.
“I’m more deadly than a screaming shell from a howitzer, I win without killing, I tear down homes, break hearts and I wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind, no innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea, and often as innocent. I never forget and seldom forgive. My name is gossip.”
Here’s the tendency to go, “Yeah. They need to hear this.” No, no, no. We need to hear this. We need to hear this. The divine elbow always comes out in church. “Honey, did you hear that? That’s for you.”
No, no, no. There’s no divine elbow. This is called you. It’s called me. Okay? It’s really important that we think about if we’re saying things that are negative. Let’s continue on.
Do my words lead to spiritual growth in others? Do they help people grow? Because he says, “But only such is as good for building up.” Maybe that’s a great question to ask before you speak. Am I really building up something here? Am I bringing healing? Am I bringing negativity? What am I doing?
How about this question? Here’s a great question. If I’m going to reprove or rebuke, do I have a relationship in community with this person? This is a great question because so many people go, “Okay. You’re right. My words should build up. A-ha! But there’s times when I need to tell people what they’re doing wrong to build them up.”
Great. Great. You feel like you need to speak the truth. Here’s the question. Before you reprove and rebuke, here’s the question: Do you have a relationship with them? Do you know them? Are you close? Do you have community with them? Because Howard Hendricks, many years ago, said what is absolutely true. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Like you just roll up on somebody here in church and start giving them business about something and they’re going to be like, “Get away from me.”
Nobody wants to hear that. But when you have a relationships — so, here’s the Chip Bennett, foolproof way. If you’re going to reprove someone or rebuke someone, or you’re going to speak into somebody’s life and speak what you’re calling the truth, “I’m going to really tell them what they’re doing,” here’s the thing: If you have a problem with someone, go to them personally. Let’s stop here for a second and camp out because I’ve got a little bit more to talk about there. Personally. The Bible is clear — you can read it in Matthew 18:15 and following. I’m not going to go there. It just says that if you’ve got a problem with somebody, go to them. That doesn’t mean you go to your small group. That doesn’t mean that you go to your friends. It doesn’t mean that you get on the internet and talk about somebody. You go to them personally if you have an issue and it’s somebody that you have a relationship with. If you don’t have a relationship with them, you can’t go to them. So, you just don’t go to them. You can pray for them, but you can’t say anything. Because if you’re really going to tell somebody what you think needs to be changed in their life, you need to have a relationship with them.
So, you go to them personally. Now, listen, this is huge. If you don’t go to them personally, or if you can’t go to them personally — like they live in Washington D.C. You can’t go to them, you’ve got a problem with them, or they may live somewhere else — I’m not singling out anybody when I say that. I just realized maybe somebody could’ve taken it that way. I’m not saying that. I’m saying it could be on either side of the aisle. They may be in Washington D.C. They may live somewhere else or whatever. They could live anywhere. The point is if you can’t go to them — you just can’t because you don’t know them personally. You don’t even know them. They wouldn’t even know you if you walked up and said, “Hey, do you know who I am?” They’d be like, “I don’t know who you are.”
If you know them personally, but you don’t go, or you can’t go to them — listen to me — then you are slandering and gossiping if you talk about them. Either side. Either thing. So, when you post out there in the world and tell everybody what you don’t like about somebody else, if you can’t go to them personally because you don’t even know them, you just really shouldn’t be saying anything at all because it doesn’t help. It just divides. That’s all it does is divide, divide, divide, divide. That’s all it does. It doesn’t help anybody. We want to stop being those people.
Here’s another question you can ask: Am I more concerned with making a point and/or being right, or speaking words of grace at the right time? Like, think about that for a second. “I want to make a point. I want to tell everybody what I think.” People don’t care what we think. They don’t, as a general rule. You’ve lived life long enough to know that. I mean, how many people have you had a shazam moment with at work when you unveiled on them your thoughts about everything in the world?
But do you know what they do? They usually go, “Yeah. Yeah. Alright.” And you walk away going, “Yeah, man. They listened to me.” They walk away and go, “Man, if that person ever gets me at the water cooler again, would you please get involved? They are crazy.” That’s what’s going on behind the scenes. You know? You’re walking away going, “I won.” Listen, am I more concerned about making a point and being right or speaking words of grace at the right time, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear?
I wrote this out. I was thinking about the fact that we like to throw stuff out there in the internet world and we like to accuse people and say things about everybody on both sides and everything else and all this stuff. How about this one here? We, as Christians, oftentimes seem as if we would rather cast our pearls before swine before speaking words of grace at the right time or offering the Gospel to the lost. Man, if you’re going to tell somebody about something, tell them about what Jesus has done in your life. Tell them about the Gospel. Tell them about the good news. I mean, seriously. Think about our words.
And here’s the last one. This is the one that sort of covers everything. Does my speech grieve or please the Holy Spirit? That’s really the question we should be asking ourselves. And this isn’t like, “Oh, man. I’ve got to walk out of here and feel bad.” No. This is great. It’s like, “You know what? I come to church, I genuinely get confronted with Scripture, there’s no agenda here with my pastor. He’s just trying to give me Scripture. He’s just trying to get me to think about the things that God has said.”
There’s a lot of room in all of our lives. Start with me. I don’t have it all together. I’m speaking about the power of words and I’m calling my wife last night on the way to church going, “Hey, I probably shouldn’t have said what I said,” and whatever. So, let me just put it out here. If you’re trying to come to a church where you think the pastor’s got it all together, this is the wrong church. You need to go to another church because I do not have it all together. But what I can tell you is you want to be at a church that tells you about the One that can put it all together, the One that can change your life. His name is Jesus, and He can do that.
And we want to be like Him. We want to look like Him. Why am I spending so much time on this? Because I see the power of our words today. I see the way people are railing against each other on both sides with everything. It just needs to stop. The reason is because we’re called to be the Church. We’re called to be the light to the world. Here’s what I want passionately as your pastor: I want to make sure that you are equipped to live out a Christian life when you come here on the weekend, and I want to make sure that this church, when we go outside of the four walls and we do all the things that we do in the community, we make it really difficult for anybody in Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota or Bradenton to go to hell. We want to make it difficult. I want to make it so hard for somebody to go to hell. They go, “Man, I don’t know. I think I need to serve Jesus because this church is pretty cool and they’re doing this stuff here. They tell me that I’m valuable. You know what? I’m going to sign up for the Jesus thing.”
I don’t want to push them away. I don’t want to shove people away. I want us to be a church that speaks life because I believe that if we can get our tongues in order and live out what we already are and speak life to the world, people will beat the doors down to get in here because people are desperate to feel and know that they are loved, that they matter and that they have dignity and worth. The One that wants to give it to them is the One that came to give us life, and life more abundantly. Let’s be people that look and talk and act like our risen Savior, Jesus. Amen?
Alright. If you would, bow your heads with me. I want to pray for two specific things. First of all, with your heads bowed and eyes closed, if you’re in here today and you are going, “Man, do you know what? I never really lived my life for God, but I’m thinking that maybe I need to live my life for God. I’m thinking about that.” Or if, maybe, you used to live your life for God and you’ve sort of struggled but you’re here today for some reason, and you go, “Man, you know what? I think I want to move forward with God,” just make your seat, right there, the place where you say, “God, I just want to start living for You.”
If that’s what you’re saying at your seat, then when you get up when we’re done praying, come find me, a pastor on staff or someone at a Hug and a Mug station and say, “I want to move forward with this.” Because it’s not just about saying a prayer. It’s about getting involved, learning a relationship and learning what God wants to do for you. We want to help you in that journey. So, if that’s you, please have that conversation with God at your seat and then come grab somebody after service.
I also want to pray for us in here that are Christians that are trying to serve God. I want us to just say, “Hey, you know what? Scripture is pretty clear about my words. Scripture is pretty clear about the way I should be talking. I need to have a moment with God here, right now as we pray, to say, ‘God, would You help me with my words? Help me with the things that I say. Help me with the things that I’m doing in my life because I want to look like You.’”
So, let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for those two things, right now, in Jesus’ name. I pray for anybody in here that may feel like they’re lost, estranged, questioning, doubting, used-to-be, or any of the above. Lord, I pray that if they’re here today and their heart is just speaking to them, saying, “You know what? I need to move forward with God,” I pray, God, that they would feel that grace here today to be able to make that more forward with You, and then to get some answers and to get plugged in into Next Step classes, and get involved, Lord, so that we can help them to cultivate that relationship that You want to have with them.
Then, Lord, for our church. As I prayed for all the other four services, and I pray also for this one, I pray, Lord, in Jesus’ name, that You would help us as a church to really think about and process through what we’ve heard today out of Your Word, and how important our words are. Help us to be people that speak life to one another and to the community in which we live, for Your glory and for Your honor.
So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today, I pray that You would watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, and I pray that You would bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, I pray that You would keep this church focused to be what You’ve called us to be, and that is a church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. We love You, we praise You, we honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.