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Storing Treasure, Speaking Treasure: A Sunday Meditation

 

With regard to godly living, Christianity emphasizes internal qualities rather than external observances but it might be the case we don’t take this distinction seriously enough. Why? Because changing our appearance is far easier than changing our character. Furthermore, it seems to me that the power of words and speech is sometimes overlooked in Christian conversation, whether amongst believers or unbelievers.

These two observations come together when treasures of the heart and speaking from the heart are considered and clearly show that what is said and the condition of the speaker’s heart are of great concern to our Lord. Consider these verses:

Matthew 6:19–21, 24 (NKJV)

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 12:33–34 (NKJV)

33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 6:45 (NKJV)

45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

The fact of the matter is that whatever we are preoccupied with, whatever we value above all else, this is the treasure we seek and the “abundance” from which our speaking comes forth. So, if we listen closely to someone seeking treasures of the world, for example, we might discover their speech to be mainly incessant jabbering about a recent acquisition, a desire for some new bauble, a new strategy for accumulating more wealth and the like. The condition of their heart as covetous and envious when someone else has more than they or pride, arrogance and superiority when talking to those ‘beneath’ them will eventually surface.

If we change our obsession with material things (or anything else for that matter) into obsessing for spiritual treasure, our speaking would be very much like God’s: creative, eternal, graceful, merciful, loving, discerning, revealing and judging. In other words, speech that is like treasures of Light and Truth. To be sure, such speech might be rejected as foolishness, even subversive and dangerous, but that is not any of our concern.

At first sight ascribing to ourselves such power of speech might seem a bit presumptuous but looking at the Acts of the Apostles and what their ‘speaking’ accomplished, I don’t think so. Thousands converted at a time, hundreds of people healed, others raised from the dead, demons cast out, governments upbraided, and advancement of God’s kingdom throughout the pagan world.

Remember that the universe and existence began with words, language, ‘speaking’ through and sustained by the Word, our Lord Jesus. He said of Himself that the words He spoke were those of the Father. Since it is the case that the Spirit of Christ dwells within every believer the potential for all of us to speak the words God would have us say is ever present. If our hearts are filled with heavenly treasure, set on seeking His kingdom first above all else, then what we say can be treasure indeed to those listening to our speech.

Just think for a moment about all the conversations you hear every day, at work, home, play, through the media and so on. I daresay a vast majority of what you hear is mere prattling on about nonsensical and meaningless drivel or, in some cases, much worse, even diabolical. Hear these words of Jesus:

Matthew 12:35–37 (NKJV)

35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

That a record of everything I have said, am presently saying and that I will give an account of all those multitude of words is a sobering thought. For me anyway, I’m finding that a lot less talking and a more careful consideration of my words is in order along with a careful assessment of what, exactly, I’m storing up in heaven and in my heart.

 

Sticks and Stones- Part 2

 

So, what are we supposed to say and how are we to say it?

Answering the second part first, consider what Jesus and James said: “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or “No, no; anything beyond this is evil.” (Matt. 5:33-37) and “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no so that you may not fall under judgment.” (James 5:12)

You might think these passages are just about oath taking before God in some religious ceremony, not normal conversation but it is precisely in regular dialogue that oath taking is prohibited. Saying anything like “I swear on a stack of Bibles that I’m telling the truth” or “As God is my witness what I say is true” or “I swear on my mother’s grave I’m telling the truth” or any other creative appeals have no place in Christian conversation. Why? Because whatever we say, whenever we say it, and to whomever we say it about anything at all is to be trustworthy. This eliminates the need for any invocation of God, graves or Bibles as guarantors of our veracity.

Living in our culture makes this a tall order indeed. Expediency and pragmatism rule conversations so people are inclined to say whatever serves their purpose and advances their cause, from sales to politics. We must admit that none of us is exempt from facing circumstances where speaking the truth might mean losing livelihoods, alienating friends, being rejection by fellow-workers, or even being placed in harm’s way and, consequently, tempted to lie. There are even philosophies suggesting that lying can serve a higher good than truth-telling and in certain circumstances should be preferred. I can only say that loving, serving and obeying Jesus is the highest good and that we are exhorted not to lie (Col. 3:9); this seems to be the sum and substance of the issue.  I don’t have the wisdom to decide if there are exceptions. So it seems that the best answer to the second question is this: we are to always speak the truth and do so with love thereby forgoing all types of false and deceptive speech. (Eph. 4:14-16)

Now, regarding the first question posed “what are we supposed to say?” the Bible has many examples, far too many to discuss here so just one will have to do. Particularly apropos to our societies drug and alcohol induced euphoria and escapism, even amongst Christians who struggle with such things, is Ephesians 5:18-21. We are instructed to “not be drunk with wine, which is dissipation (read reckless living and/or debauchery), but be filled with the Spirit speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things…”. This is, indeed, elevated conversation that not even the most educated and sophisticated in the politest of conversations can hope to match.

I think it significant that being filled with the Spirit and speaking are closely associated here. Recall from the previous post that speech is self-revelation and self-definition; it is who I am and what I mean. When we speak we create an environment, a kind of world in fact, in which all who hear our words are affected, for good or for ill. The environment we create when filled with the Spirit is filled with joy, praise, laughter, encouragement, and thanksgiving for all things which sets Christian conversation apart from all others. When filled with the Spirit, we can be thankful, always thankful (not just when the mood strikes us) for all things (not just those that suit us. This is especially important because an attitude of thanklessness describes an entire world rejecting any knowledge of God and in unparalleled hubris falling into idolatry. (Romans 1:21-23)  Unlike the world, Christians acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of all things and thank Him for His gifts including existence itself. Speaking thankfulness (it is important to say it, not just think it for it is a witness to those still in darkness) for all things in our conversations reveals the stunning reversal of humanities hubris through God’s redemptive work.

The question for all of us, then, is what kind of ‘world’ do we create when we talk to others? Is it a world filled with condemnation, vulgarity, and darkness or one filled with grace, love, compassion, wisdom and truth? Is it a world people are drawn towards or repelled by? Is it a world Jesus would feel comfortable in or be embarrassed? I’ve asked myself these questions and consequently I’m much more attentive to my wagging tongue and what it’s saying.

 

 

 

 

Sticks and Stones

I’m sure all of you have suffered the taunts, ridicule, excessive criticism and sarcasm of your school mates and siblings at one time or another. Unfortunately, this kind of speaking, and even worse kinds, occur among Christians. The old saying that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is patently false. While it’s true that words can’t physically do damage, like sticks and stones, certain kinds of words and the way they are spoken can inflict far worse injury on their victim.

The power of words and their delivery is why James spoke of the tongue in largely unflattering terms because, when uncontrolled, it wreaks havoc upon the speaker and those within earshot. Giving someone a ‘tongue-lashing’ is a good example. But how is it words and speech are so powerful that they can change the course of history, change the lives or millions, bring kings to their knees, or cause someone to feel pain?  They are, after all, only words, ephemeral things having no physical dimensions at all.

The short answer is because the universe itself was created by words and the breath that gives them utterance; speech and speaking, therefore, are part of the very structure of existence itself. (Heb. 11:3; Gen. 1:26, 2:7). In like manner, when we speak there are effects, consequences, so much so, in fact, that “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). This power resides in the meaning of words according to the definitions they possess. Definitions in turn are made up of concepts, or ideas, that give content to the words being spoken. When a word enters the mind of a listener emotions are stirred, the intellect is quickened and the will moved to respond to what is being said.

But there’s more to this. Behind the words is the act of speaking itself which always intends to accomplish something, whether to clarify, explain, reveal, upbraid, comfort, guide, extol, criticize, harm, deceive, persuade and so on. Furthermore, and most important to understand, words expose the person speaking, their motivations, desires, attitudes, personality, agendas, motives; in short, who and what they are behind the veil of flesh, self-deception and their own assumptions. All of this is why Jesus said with absolute surety that “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…”  Speech is self-revelation and self-definition; it is who I am and what I mean. So, when I speak I am engaging in the very activity that brought about the creation of the worlds, I am creating an environment, a kind of world in fact, in which I and others who hear my words are affected, for good or for ill, whether by clean air or pollution.

By my reckoning, the ‘right to free speech’ in our Constitution doesn’t go near far enough since even the foul-mouthed, unintelligent, uncivilized, profane and unjust among us (see Psa. 5:9 and Psa. 10-3-11) are protected and can say what they want. Christians are governed by a far higher and noble standard whereby speaking is elevated to righteous, holy and truthful utterances that imitate the speech of He Who spoke the worlds into being.

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