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"Putting away falsehood, speak every man truth with his neighbor:
for we are members one of another."—Eph. 4:25 .
IN OUR LAST study we contrasted the teachings of Jesus with those of the Pharisees respecting obligations to the Law. Our decision was that "never man spake like this man." In today's study we note the contrast between His teachings and those of the religionists of His day. Others attempted to limit the habit of swearing, but the Great Teacher said, "Swear not at all." How foolish is swearing of every kind! We are not, of course, objecting to solemn affirmations or legal oaths as required by law.
Truly Saint Paul declares that those who receive the Spirit of the Lord possess the "Spirit of a sound mind." They soon begin to realize the senselessness and vulgarity of swearing or of supposing it necessary to substantiate their word. Quite to the contrary, the fact that one boisterously swears that what he says is true implies that he does not expect his hearer to believe his simple word, and this in turn presupposes that his word ordinarily is not worthy of belief.
Note the injunction of the Master, "Let your speech be yea, yea, nay, nay"—anything further implies evil. The Master's meaning evidently is, When you say yes, let it be yes; when you say no, let it be no! Tell the truth! Your friends and neighbors by and by will learn how to value your speech. In other words, be so truthful in all that you say that it will be unnecessary to swear to its truthfulness, or to use any kind of specially forceful language to prove your sincerity—that you are neither overstating nor understating the truth.
In the second portion of our study St. James exhorts, "Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive severer testing. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." St. James seems to say that, while all Christians need to bridle their tongues, those in the more exalted positions are all the more liable to error in this respect. They have a special gift of speech and another special gift of opportunity to use this speech, and so, exerting a wide influence, their responsibility evidently is proportionate.
It is not for us to judge ministers or others; there is One that judgeth, the Lord. We greatly fear, however, that many ministers, as well as Christians in humbler stations, fail to fully appreciate their responsibilities for every word they utter or have the opportunity of uttering. Many tell us that for years they preached what they did not believe. How terrible! How stultifying to their manhood! How serious a reflection upon their brand of Christianity! However, we should rejoice that finally their consciences triumphed.
St. James gives some forceful illustrations. Christians should put a bridle of restraint into their own mouths, even as they put bits into the mouths of their horses. They should have a rudder whereby to steer their own course in life, even as they put a rudder upon a ship. They should remember that the tongue, although one of the least members of the body, is the most influential of all. A blow struck by the fist might injure one person near enough, but a bitter word, like a poisoned arrow, may strike afar off; yea, like a shell from a great gun, it may explode and do much damage. Yea, more! Its influence may pass through telephones, telegraph wires, cables and wireless apparatus to every nook and corner of the earth, and be reproduced in newspapers all over the world. What a tremendous power! what a sacred trust! what a talent for use or misuse!
Not all of us have such wide opportunities for good or evil, but in our own homes, in our own offices, shops, markets, we may send forth either good or evil influences, far reaching for either happiness or misery, either up-building or down-tearing character, either of helpfulness or of discouragement. Surely no Christian could be indifferent to this his most powerful member. St. James suggests that as a match will kindle a great fire, so the tongue might start a great flame, a great commotion and do much injury. He suggests boasting as being one of the most dangerous uses of the tongue. Our experience corroborates this. Boasting often leads us into error and fastens us there because we are not humble enough to acknowledge the fault. It often leads into untruth from which we may have difficulty in escaping. It is an evidence of pride, and therefore un-Christlike, improper.
Angry words, bitter words, sarcastic words, taunting words, may set ablaze the course of a whole life and impel it with angry force toward the Second Death, Gehenna. Hence St. James suggests that such evil-breeding words are like sparks from Gehenna, tending toward destruction.
The Apostle reminds us that beasts and birds and fishes are all subject to a taming power under man's direction, but that no man can tame another man's tongue. [R5021 : page 149] Yea, is it not safe to say that no fallen man can tame his own tongue? The only way by which to have our tongues brought into subjection to the Divine will and made useful as servants of truth and righteousness and love is by having them converted. And since the tongue is but the agent speaking for the sentiments of the heart, it follows that it is the heart that needs to be converted. The power of true conversion, true transformation of character, so that "all things become new," is of God.
The child of God, begotten of the Holy Spirit, has an assistance in the mastering and taming of his tongue that the unregenerate have not. How important then the message, "My son, give Me thine heart"! Out of the heart are the issues of life. Out of the abundance of the heart, of the heart's meditations, the mouth speaketh.
St. James declares that the tongue of the natural man is full of deadly poison. His illustration seems to be that of a serpent. Alas, that in our fallen condition it should be so true that "the poison of asps is under their lips!" It is when we become new creatures, with a new motive power and incentive of love instead of selfishness, that the poison fangs are drawn. The new mind, the new creature, can then use the lips to show forth the praises of God and to bless his fellowmen.
But note that the Apostle calls our attention to the fact that some who have become people of God, some who do Him reverence, fail to take note of the fact that the same tongue with which they sing Divine praises and tell Divine mercy they use to backbite, slander, defame, crush, mortify, scathe, flay their fellowmen! Alas, we realize the truth of the charge! And to realize means to correct on the part of those who are seeking to do the Divine will and to be true disciples of the Redeemer. A fountain cannot send forth at the same opening pure water and brackish. Hence we may know that if with our tongues we are doing injury to our fellowmen we are deceiving ourselves with respect to our real attitude toward God. We may know that God will reject the prayers and worship coming from a heart full of bitterness, anger, malice, hatred, envy, strife, and manifesting itself in acrimonious speech.
It was Carlyle who described sarcasm as being "the natural language of the Devil." It was Faber who wrote, "No one was ever corrected by sarcasm; crushed, perhaps, if the sarcasm was clever enough, but drawn nearer to God, never." Robertson wrote, "Love is the remedy for slander." Surely the Golden Rule needs to be applied to our speech as well as to our actions. Truly Bishop Jackson wrote: "From being the messenger of peace and love, the tongue has become the fomenter of jealousy and ill-will, the lash of uncharitableness and the weapon of hatred."