Friday, May 30, 2008


James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

God is love. But there are certain things that God hates and which we should hate too. Proverbs 6:16-19 says:
16 These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Notice that among the seven things listed by Solomon, lying occupies a prominent position. God hates a lying tongue and he hates a false witness who speaks lies. As we detail various sins of the tongue, therefore, it is important to address the sin of lying.

Why does God hate a lying tongue? Because it violates His nature. Jesus Himself declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And because He is the truth, He beseeches the Father to make his disciples truthful people, “Sanctify them in the truth,” he prays, “Thy word is truth.” You see precisely because God is a God of truth, he hates those, he despises those who fiddle with the truth to serve their own petty ends.

It is important before detailing what lying is, that we also clarify what lying is not. There are those who are unduly pietistic in their definition of lying – having scruples about things that God does not condemn. So a few clarifiers. We do not lie when we use tactics in battle. God Himself commanded the Israelites to deceive the men of Ai and pretend to retreat before them. We do not lie when we are protecting the life of those who are innocent from the wicked. Corrie ten Boom and others were right to tell the Nazis they were not hiding Jews even though they were. We do not lie when we tell stories that are not true in order to illustrate one that is true and drive others to repentance. Nathan was justified in telling the story of the man who stole another’s sheep even though that event did not actually happen because a far more serious event – David’s sin with Bathsheba – did happen and David needed to repent.

Other qualifiers could be given, but with these in mind let us be clear what lying is. The most basic definition of lying, of course, is to tell an untruth. We lie when we say something is true which we know to be false. This, of course, is different than being mistaken. But when we report something as true when we know it is false we are lying. “No officer I was really only going 25 – never mind that my speedometer read 90.” “No mommy I didn’t steal any cookies from the cookie jar – never mind the crumbs on my shirt.” “No Sally I’m not upset with you – never mind that I haven’t spoken to you in six months.” False advertising would fit into this category of lying. “Yes George this here car is running in tip top shape – never mind that I put an additive in the transmission to cover up the grinding noise.”

Alongside this basic type of lying are other more subtle forms. We lie when we promise that which we know we cannot fulfill. You business owners will be especially tempted in this regard and need to guard yourselves carefully. Do not make promises that you cannot fulfill. Here’s the way this will work. You know that you need additional work to make ends meet. Someone has a job that you can do. They ask you to do it next Friday. But you know you can’t get it done by next Friday. Nevertheless, you promise them – yeah I’ll do that. Ah you’ve got your customer. Then you call next Wednesday and say – hey I’m sorry, I’ve had something come up and I can’t get there on Friday – but I’ll be there on Monday. You rationalize thus – well I’m still getting the job done; if she didn’t want me to do the job anymore she’d tell me – never mind that I’ve now put her in a bind in which she can’t get any other help. If you promise to do a job for someone next Friday knowing that there’s no possibility or little possibility you will accomplish it, then you have lied.

We lie when we do not hold true to promises we have made. “The righteous,” Psalm 15 declares, “swears to his own hurt and does not change.” The liar, on the other hand, swears to his own hurt and changes when he realizes he is going to get hurt or whenever a better option comes his way. The liar hates the truth. Oh he may not say it in so many words – I hate truth – but by his actions he declares the same. I know I said that – but it doesn’t matter, I’m going to do this now. If you act that way, you are a liar.

We lie when we declare to be true that which God has declared to be false. “Who is the liar except he who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? This one is a liar and an antichrist.”

And so the question comes to you this morning – are you a liar? Have you lied to your neighbor? Have you said something is true which you know to be false? Have you made promises knowing you couldn’t fulfill them? Have you failed to fulfill your promises? Have you despised the Word of God? If so, then you need to make it right. You need to ask the forgiveness of those you have wronged and the forgiveness of our great God and King.

And so this morning let us kneel and confess the ways in which not only we but also our culture has indulged the sin of lying.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jesus a Willing Victim

The Gospel of John is incredibly careful to emphasize that Jesus went to his death willingly. One of the ways John emphasizes this is through a small detail at the arrest of Jesus that the other Gospel writers choose to leave unmentioned. When the men came to arrest Jesus, he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" Upon hearing the declaration, "Jesus of Nazareth," Jesus himself declares, "I AM." The response? The arrestors become arrested in their tracks - falling back and fearing for their lives. Why? No doubt because of the majesty of our Lord shining through on this darkest of nights. And so John tells us - these men couldn't have arrested Jesus if he hadn't wanted to be arrested. As true as it is that Judas handed Jesus over to his enemies, it is just as true that Jesus handed himself over to them. And so Jesus tells Peter, "Shall I not drink this cup that the Father has given me?" Praise God for our Willing Victim.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

Father Joseph Weitensteiner – “Father Joe” to those who know him – devoted much of his life to the service of troubled boys and young men in Spokane. Having served as the Executive Director of Morning Star Ranch in Spokane continuously since 1966, he retired in 2006 at the age of 74.

A year before his retirement, allegations were aimed at Father Joe charging him with abuse by men who lived at the Morning Star Ranch back in the 1970s. The Spokesman Review highly publicized the accusations – interviewing the accusers, getting “their side” of the story. Never mind these allegations came from inmates who failed to profit from their time at the ranch. Never mind these allegations were countered by thousands of testimonies vouching for Father Joe’s character from staff at the Ranch, from grown men whose lives had been transformed by his ministry, and from families who had been restored through his labors.

The highly publicized accusations took their toll on Father Joe’s health and were no doubt one of the factors leading to his retirement. To help expose the slander, Father Joe requested a polygraph examination from an independent agency and passed 100%. In December 2005, after the allegations came forward, Father Joe issued a statement offering “forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are making these false accusations.” “Creating a positive and safe environment at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch,” he stated, “has been one of my primary priorities for 40 years. These allegations have hurt me deeply, but I have confidence that those who know me and have worked with me throughout my career know what is real.” But sadly in many respects the damage was already done.

Last week we considered the devastating impact that gossip has on human relationships. Those who go about bearing tales separate intimate friends, introduce coldness into relationships, and undermine trust.

Closely related to gossip is slander. Gossip becomes slander when the rumor intentionally circulated is clearly false and intended to destroy. Slander has a much clearer sinister element to it – intending as it does to harm the one about whom the tale is told. While those who gossip sometimes delude themselves into thinking that they are really helping the other person or at least not harming anyone, the slanderer intentionally sets out to harm another by spreading falsehoods. He is using his tongue to destroy.

Warnings against slander are replete in the Scriptures. David complained, “For I hear the slander of many; Fear is on every side; While they take counsel together against me, They scheme to take away my life.” His son Solomon notes in Proverbs 10:18, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool.” And Paul, in the other testament, notes that in the latter days men will be “unloving, unforgiving, slanderers.”

Because of the insidious nature of slander, severe curses are called down upon the one who practices the same. The psalmist prays in Psalm 140:11, “Let not a slanderer be established in the earth; Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.” And God Himself announces in Psalm 101:5, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, Him I will destroy.” God takes slander seriously.

Reminded once again that the tongue is a fire – able to destroy a lifetime’s, even more than a lifetime’s labor – let us kneel and confess that we have not guarded our tongues, that we have used them to evil purposes, that we have attempted to destroy others with them.

Friday, May 16, 2008


James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

James’ stern warnings against the tongue are nothing new. Given the power of the tongue that we observed last week, the abuses to which the tongue can be twisted have long been addressed by our Lord in His Word. The Old and New Testaments both are full of instruction regarding the use and abuse of the tongue.

In Psalm 15, for instance, the psalmist meditates on the type of person who shall be able to dwell in peace with God. His answer? “He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend.” The psalmist informs us in no uncertain terms that control of the tongue is one of the central virtues that will characterize he who desires to dwell with God. And those who backbite or who spread tales about others have no guarantee of a place in his temple.

This observation of the psalmist is itself based on God’s words to Moses in Leviticus 19:16. Listen to the Word of God:

Leviticus 19:16 (NKJV)16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Smack dab in the middle of the law God included a prohibition against bearing tales – and, what’s more alarming, he links the telling of tales with premeditating murder. So why is the telling of tales so serious?

Solomon informs us in Proverbs 18:8 that, “8 The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.” The nature of tales is that they descend into the heart and cause suspicion and coldness to grow. Even though talebearing or gossip, as it is also called, does not always leave an outward wound, the internal damage it causes is extensive both for the one telling the tale and for the one hearing it. For though we find ourselves making light of the tale brought to our ears or even wholly despising it, nevertheless the poison works. “Suppose it should be true,” we say to ourselves. “Perhaps, though it may be exaggerated, there is some truth in what was said.” And this thought, indulged only for a moment, breeds suspicion, distrust, coldness and often ends in the separation of the most intimate companions. The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity.

What then is the solution? Well Solomon tells us quite plainly in Proverbs 11:13 – “A talebearer reveals secrets,” – that’s what he does. He or she goes about looking for tasty morsels to consume and after chewing on them awhile spits them out and shares them with his neighbor. Yum. But what’s the alternative? “But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” That’s the alternative. Don’t go blabbing about your friends’ faults; don’t reveal your grievances against your spouse; don’t advertise a minor indiscretion – conceal as much as possible. That’s what love does; that’s what a faithful spirit does. Is that what you do?

Reminded that we are often tempted to carry tales from one location to another, let us kneel and let us confess our sins to the Lord.

The Power of the Tongue

James 3:3-5 (NKJV)3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” is a common English proverb and its truth is attested in our passage today. Though perhaps James would have us modify it somewhat. Rather than use the word “pen” James would use the word “tongue” – the tongue is mightier than the sword. Proverbs 12:18 declares, “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health.” This distinction between the wise and foolish tongue is the one that James enters upon in our text today. In anticipation of detailing the abuse to which the tongue can be turned, James begins by making sure we understand the power of the tongue.

James uses three analogies to help us grasp the power, the might of the tongue. First, he compares the tongue to the gear used to control a horse – with special focus on the bit. A horse is truly a mighty animal. Anecdotes of their strength and agility abound – mine concerns a horse who particularly hated pigs. One day a lady brought her pet hog to the stables – and a large one at that. Venturing into the territory of our swine despising equine, the hog soon came to a miserable end. The horse became enraged, clamped onto the pig’s back with his teeth, and proceeded to lift the pig off the ground and shake him back and forth again and again before finally casting him aside as a dead heap of ham. Don’t underestimate what a horse can do! And now, James tells us, meditate on the wee bit of metal that we stick in the horse’s mouth – suddenly this animal capable of tossing pigs to and fro submits to his rider and goes wherever the rider desires. That bit – that small piece of metal – is just like the tongue.

Second, he compares the tongue to the rudder on a ship. Go down to the dockyards. Look at all the massive ships at anchor in the bay. Get a due sense of their size and proportion. Then glance underneath – do you see that little flap of metal, wood, or, these days, fiberglass there under the water at the stern of the ship? That’s the rudder – and it’s job is to control the direction of the entire ship. Even though it is so small, it directs the course of the ship wherever the pilot desires. That, brothers, is the tongue.

Finally, he compares the tongue to a small flame of fire. Every parent, of course, warns his children not to play with matches. But the match is so small. Why worry? Because it only takes a little spark to start a massive fire. And that spark is just like the tongue.

Notice then that James uses each of these analogies to say the same thing – though the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it boasts great things. The tongue controls the rest of the body. Just as the bit controls the horse, just as the rudder controls the ship, just as the spark starts the fire, so the tongue controls you. What you do with your tongue is not a minor thing. If you don’t control it, it will control you. No wonder then that James tells us that the tongue is mightier than the sword.

“There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health.” Have you considered fully the consequences of your words this week? Have you considered the way in which the words you speak are affecting others and even affecting yourself? Are you like one who stabs with a sword each time you speak or are you instead one who uses his tongue to bring healing – both to yourself and to others?

Let us kneel and confess that we have been prone to underestimate the power of the tongue and have used that power to evil purposes.