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Words, the Word of God and ‘words’
Actor David Suchet, well-known for his title role in Poirot, tells how a few years ago he was lying in his bath in a hotel in America, when he had a sudden and impulsive desire to read the Bible. He managed to find a Gideon Bible and he started to read the New Testament. As he read, he came to put his faith in Jesus Christ. He said:
‘From somewhere I got this desire to read the Bible again. That’s the most important part of my conversion. I started with the Acts of the Apostles and then moved to Paul’s Letters – Romans and Corinthians. And it was only after that I came to the gospels. In the New Testament I suddenly discovered the way that life should be followed.’
The most powerful words ever written are in the Bible. Words and speech are also an important theme in it. The word ‘word’ is used in different senses in today’s passages.
First, it is used in the sense of our words. Quite simply, the things we say to God and one another can be good or bad as we see in today’s passage in Proverbs.
Second, it is also used in the sense of the Word of God. This is supremely Jesus Christ (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:2), but also refers to the Word of God in the Scriptures and in preaching and teaching (as we see in today’s New Testament passage).
Third, the Bible also uses the phrase ‘word of the Lord’ in the sense of prophecy. The word of God came to prophets like Jeremiah (2:1). God continues to speak to the church through prophetic messages (1 Timothy 4:14). We sometimes speak of people receiving ‘words’ from the Lord in this sense. Of course we need to distinguish the Old Testament prophets, whose ‘words’ were definitely ‘the word of the Lord’ and are now part of Scripture from prophetic ‘words’ today which need testing against Scripture.
1. Use your words to good effectProverbs 25:11-20
- Good words
The words we speak really matter. Sometimes, they have a very good effect. When someone finds the right words for the right occasion there is something very beautiful about it: ‘The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewellery’ (v.11, MSG).
Something less easy to hear but equally valuable is ‘a wise rebuke to a listening ear’ (v.12b). Very few people find receiving a rebuke pleasant, but as the writer of Proverbs says ‘a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger’ (v.12, MSG).
Likewise, a trustworthy friend or messenger who keeps to their word is a great blessing. ‘Reliable friends who do what they say are like cool drinks in sweltering heat – refreshing!’ (v.13, MSG).
The tongue is so powerful. ‘Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone’ (v.15). Or as The Message puts it, ‘gentle speech breaks down rigid defences.’
- Bad words
However, there are some uses of words which the writer of Proverbs warns us against. Empty promises lead to disappointment. When someone makes a pledge that they do not fulfil, the writer of Proverbs says, ‘Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given’ (v.14).
On the whole, it is not good to spend too much time talking to any one person or group of people: ‘When you’re given a box of candy, don’t gulp it all down; eat too much chocolate and you’ll make yourself sick; And when you find a friend, don’t outwear your welcome; show up at all hours and he’ll soon get fed up’ (v.17, MSG). We need a balance in our relationships. Words need to be spread widely.
Another bad use of words is false testimony. This could be in court or simply in our conversation. ‘Anyone who tells lies against their neighbours in court or on the street is a loose cannon’ (v.18, MSG). It is very painful to read or hear things said about ourselves which are simply untrue.
Lord, thank you for the power of words to bring blessing. Help us always to use our words for good. Help us to find words aptly spoken, to listen to wise people’s rebukes and always to seek to be a trustworthy messenger with a gentle tongue. Help us to avoid empty promises and false testimony.
Today, put a guard over my lips and a watch over my tongue that I might speak only words of blessing.
2. Devote yourself to the Word of God1 Timothy 4:1-16
It is so sad and disappointing when professing Christians stray from their faith. Paul writes that some are giving up on their faith and chasing after ‘demonic illusions put forth by professional liars’ (v.1, MSG).
We need to guard ourselves against deception by studying the truth – which is revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.
Paul warns against false teaching which tells us ‘not to get married’ or ‘not to eat this or that food’ (v.3, MSG).
Paul writes, ‘The Spirit clearly says …’ (v.1) and ‘everything God created is good, and is to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy’ (vv.4–5, MSG).
Paul urges Timothy to pass on the ‘good teaching’ he has received (v.6). An example of the good teaching is ‘a trustworthy saying’ (v.9) – that God ‘is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe’ (v.10).
Timothy is called to ‘Get the word out. Teach all these things’ (v.11, MSG). He is to be an example to the believers in speech (as well as in life, in love, in faith and in purity). Paul urges him to devote himself to the public reading of scripture, of preaching and teaching (v.13). This must always be a high priority for Christian leaders (see 5:17).
All this is part of training ourselves to be godly (4:7). It is good to exercise and keep fit: ‘Physical training is of some value’ (v.8a), but there is something far more important than physical training. ‘Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness ... making you fit both today and forever’ (v.8b, MSG). More important than physical training is training in godliness, because, ‘godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come’ (v.8).
In the Christian life your age does not define your maturity. Paul writes ‘don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young’ (v.11, MSG). Whatever our age we can set an example by our lives. Furthermore, age is no bar to teaching the word of God.
Paul urges Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely (v.16). Yesterday we saw how much a leader’s life matters. Today we see that the words they speak matter as well. We need to watch our lives and our lips. ‘Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching’ (v.16, MSG).
He also refers to a gift that was given to Timothy through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on him. This is an example of a ‘word’ from the Lord given through the gift of prophecy in the New Testament.
Lord, thank you so much for the word of God. Thank you so much for speaking to us. Thank you for the power of the word of God in our own lives and in the church. Thank you that everything is to be received with thanksgiving if it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. Help us to train ourselves in godliness (v.7b), to devote ourselves to the Scriptures and to set an example in every area of our lives (vv.12–13).
3. Listen carefully to the ‘words’ of the prophetsJeremiah 40:7–42:22
Have you ever been in a situation where you had decided what you were going to do and then looked for a word from God to confirm what you had already decided in your heart to do?
I’ve been there. It is not a good place to be. This is what happened here. They had decided they wanted to go down to Egypt and they wanted Jeremiah to give them a message from God confirming it was the right thing to do. It led to disaster.
Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who had a reputation for being able to hear ‘the word of the Lord’ (42:1–7).
Israel had reached one of the lowest points in its history. Gedaliah, who had been appointed as governor over the remnant of the people who had not gone into exile (40:7), had been murdered (40:7–41:15). Since the water supply was so precious in Palestine, the fowling of the system was a particularly irresponsible act of vandalism (41:9).
Johanan was thoroughly competent to deal with the situation involving military skill. But his only thought was to escape to Egypt from what he imagined to be the inevitable Babylonian reprisals. In this policy he was to clash with Jeremiah.
Johanan and all the army officers came to Jeremiah and asked him to ‘pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do’ (42:3).
Jeremiah’s response was ‘I will certainly pray to the Lord your God as requested; I will tell you everything the Lord says and will keep nothing back from you’ (v.4).
They promise, ‘Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey the Lord our God’ (v.6).
It is interesting to note that, even for Jeremiah, guidance did not come instantly on the spur of the moment. ‘Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah’ (v.7).
The word of the Lord did come to him and he faithfully passed it on. ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says …’ (v.9). He promises blessing if they stay in the land (vv.10–12) and judgment if they go in to Egypt (v.13 onwards).
It turned out that they had already decided what they would do and merely wanted the Lord to confirm it. They made the mistake of not obeying the word of the Lord (v.21). How vital it is to ask the Lord before we make our decisions rather than after!
Lord, thank you that prayer involves two-way communication. Thank you that you speak to us. Thank you that you have spoken supremely through your son, Jesus. Thank you that you speak to us through the Scriptures. Thank you that you speak to us through the prophets. Help us to listen carefully to your words and to obey them. May we not only hear your words and obey them, but pass them on to others. May the words that come from our mouths be good words that save both ourselves and our hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).
‘Seldom set foot in your neighbour's house – too much of you, and you will be hated.’
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