The Christian and his Speech

by J. C. Wenger

The Word of God attaches great significance to the speech of the saints. All one needs to do to become aware of this fact is to look up in a complete concordance, such words as lips, mouth, tongue, talk, cry, words, comfort, edify, prophesy, teach, blasphemy, boasting, cursing, evil speaking, reviling, swearing, oaths, slander, and flattery. Speech is a normal means of communication from one mind to another. When God wished to reveal Himself to man He also employed words, that is, He gave us the Bible. The church of Jesus Christ was established and continues to exist and extend its membership by means of the proclamation of the word of the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul indicates something of the great significance which he attached to speaking by saying that he had rather speak five words with his understanding, so as to instruct others, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue (1 Cor. 14:19). This does not mean, of course, that Christianity resides in the form of the word spoken as if it were a magical formula. On the contrary the New Testament emphasizes the fact that Christianity is not a matter of terminology but of the power of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5), Himself a Person. The Corinthian Church placed great stress on words, and the Apostle Paul in attempting to help them stated, "My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:4, 5). Nevertheless the true child of God wishes to use his tongue and lips for the glory of God, even as Moses stated in his beautiful song in Deuteronomy 32:

    Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak;
    And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
    My doctrine shall drop as the rain;
    My speech shall distil as the dew,
    As the small rain upon the tender grass,
    And as the showers upon the herb.
    For I will proclaim the name of Jehovah:
    Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. Deut. 32:1-3

what then are the major principles which the Bible gives us to guide us in the matter of speech? Here are some of the major emphases of the Word of God:

1. Purity and Good Taste

The Lord Jesus indicated clearly the tremendous significance of a man's words: "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12:33-37; cf. Luke 6:43-45).

If Christians could grasp the significance of the words of Jesus Christ, there would be no question about the character of their speech. Nevertheless the Bible does warn even born-again Christians of the necessity of being careful of their language. In writing to the church at Colosse the Apostle Paul tells them to eliminate "shameful speaking" (Col. 3:8). The word which is here translated "shameful" has reference to obscenity. The rendering "filth" as found in the King James version brings out well the true significance of this word. To the church at Ephesus the apostle writes, "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear" (Eph. 4:29). The Prophet Isaiah stated exactly the same truth regarding the relationship of a man's heart to his speech: "For the fool will speak folly, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice profaneness, and to utter error against Jehovah, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail" (Isa. 32:6). The telling of impure stories, or enjoying hearing others tell them, and the making of witty remarks with a double meaning, one innocent and the other unchaste, are therefore completely out of the question for the true child of God (Eph. 5:4.***) Rather one's attitude should be that of righteous Lot who was "sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked: for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds" (II Pet. 2:8). The Apostle Peter, however, after giving this beautiful testimony to Lot's character, immediately added, "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation." (II Pet. 2:9). That is, the grace of God is sufficient to keep the child of God, regardless of how filthy or wicked his environment may be.


***note: Eph. 5:4. Christians ought to he serious-minded but this does not mean that they cannot enjoy a bit of clean humor occasionally. It is not forbidden in Scripture for the saints to laugh. He who lacks a sense of humor has neither the flexibility of good mental health nor the normal winsomeness of a child of God. That which is Condemned in Eph. 5:4 is the wicked attitude which finds "occasion for wit or levity m anything, however sacred, fearing nothing so much as to be dull, and mistaking all seriousness and reserve for dullness" (Barry, quoted in Meyer's Commentary). In the "filthy talk" the foulness and coarseness are evident; in the "foolish talking" they are also present but in a veiled form. "Jesting" is worldly and sensual wit; Plutarch used the term of the speech of a drunken man. Nevertheless it is clear that the inspired apostle is lifting Christians above the calculated exhibition of mental cleverness to a deep Christian gratitude. Christians ought to be a rebuke to the light-mindedness of many moderns, especially in America.

2. Restraint and Humility

It is usually taken for granted in countries abroad that Americans talk too loudly and too much. If this accusation is true, and there is good reason to fear that it is, it means that the citizens of our land have not taken seriously enough the admonition of the Apostle James to be "slow to speak" (Jas. 1:19). Not only, however, are we tempted to speak too much, but another of our besetting sins is that of boasting. This is the longest bridge, that is the highest tower, this is the heaviest locomotive, that is the fastest airplane, etc. The Word of God is clear that there is no place for boasting in the life of the saint. It is only the wicked who say: "Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?" (Ps. 12:4). Jude describes certain sinners as being murmurers and complainers and walking after their lusts, and he adds, "their mouth speaking great, swelling words." (Jude 16). And the Apostle Peter says that the wicked are "uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error; promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage"(II Pet. 2:18-20).

It is not necessary, however, to be an impious boaster for one's speech to be unbecoming for a child of God and to be displeasing to the Lord, for Titus tells the children of God to speak evil of no man (Titus 3:2). He does not raise any question about false testimony, but says simply that one shall not speak evil of anyone. It is not even confined to the Christian brotherhood, although speaking evil of a brother is an especially grievous sin. The Apostle James says: "Speak not one against another, brethren" (Jas. 4:11). The Scripture tells us that one of the seven most evil things which Jehovah hates is the sowing of discord among brethren (Prov. 6:19). If all Christians would live by these precepts, regardless of whatever misunderstandings and differences of judgment might occur within the brotherhood, there would be no church fights or feuds, nor would there be congregational troubles that drag on by the decade.

3. Absolute Truthfulness

The Word of God is a veritable battery of passages dealing with lying, flattery, false testimony, and the like. Solomon states that one of the seven things which Jehovah hates is a lying tongue (Prov. 6:17). David describes wicked sinners as follows:

    "They speak falsehood every one with his neighbor:
    With flattering lip, and with a double heart, do they speak.
    Jehovah will cut off all flattering lips,
    The tongue that speaketh great things. Ps. 12:2, 3

In another eloquent description David says:

    "His mouth was smooth as butter, But his heart was war:
    His words were softer than oil, Yet were they drawn swords" (Ps. 55:21).

Jeremiah laments:

    "And they bend their tongue, as it were their bow, for falsehood; and they are grown strong in the land, but not for truth: for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith Jehovah. Take ye heed everyone of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will go about with slanders. And they will deceive everyone his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves to commit iniquity. Thy habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith Jehovah" (Jer. 9:3-6).

The New Testament contains the same descriptions of the wicked, identical warnings against this sin, and even stronger exhortations to truthfulness: "For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent" (Rom. 16:18). In another epistle the Apostle Paul writes: "wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another" (Eph. 4:25); and in the Colossian letter he appeals to his readers as follows: "Lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Col. 3:9, 10). In a beautiful appeal the Apostle Peter also writes:

    Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humble-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessings; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing For,
    He that would love life,
    And see good days,
    Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
    And his lips that they speak no guile:
    And let him turn away from evil, and do good;
    Let him seek peace, and pursue it.
    For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,
    And his ears unto their supplication:
    But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. I Pet. 3:8-12

In the Book of Revelation the Apostle John writes: "But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8); also, "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie" (Rev. 22:14, 15).

4. Love and Kindness

Not only will a man of faith speak good and true words; it is also true that when an individual speaks sharply to another he is betraying the lack of love for his brother which is in his heart. For example, the brothers of Joseph actually hated him because of his good life; so it was only natural that they "could not speak peaceably unto him (Gen. 37:4). David describes vividly his enemies, their attitude, and their language:

    "My soul is among lions;
    I lie among them that are set on fire, Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword" (Ps. 57:4).

In Psalm 101 the Lord says:

    "A perverse heart shall depart from me:
    I will know no evil thing.
    Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I destroy:
    Him that hath a high look and a proud heart will I not suffer" (Ps. 101:4-5).

When we come to the New Testament, we find that the Saviour not only asks us to be truthful, to have a heart of integrity, and to manifest love and kindness to our brethren; He also tells us that we shall take a redemptive attitude toward even our enemies. God Himself showers His love upon those who love Him and those who hate Him. Christians are to be children of their Father in heaven; they are to be like Him in character; they are to be perfect in love, even as their heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus, therefore, tells us: "Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same?" (Matt. 5:44-47).

Paul teaches exactly the same doctrine of absolute love in Romans 12: "Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not (Rom. 12:14). And by way of warning Jesus said: "But I say unto you, that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire (Matt 5:22). Jesus is speaking here entirely in the spirit of that great Old Testament teaching:

    "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat;
    And if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
    For thou wilt heap coals of fire upon his head,
    And Jehovah will reward thee" (Prov. 25:21, 22).

The Old Testament also suggested the proper spirit to manifest in dealing with an angry person: "A soft answer turneth away wrath" (Prov. 15:1),as was illustrated in the case of Gideon in dealing with the men of Ephraim (Judg. 8:1-3).manifesting a humble spirit and in showing appreciation for the accomplishments of the Ephraimites, entirely appeased their anger against him. One of the worst sins against love and kindness is that commonly spoken of as gossip, which is described in the Bible as "bearing tales." Concerning talebearing the Lord told the children of Israel through Moses, "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people" (Lev. 19:16).

We find a commentary on the type of character which is accept-able to Jehovah in Psalm 15:

    Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?
    Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
    He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,
    And speaketh truth in his heart;
    He that slandereth not with his tongue,
    Nor doeth evil to his friend,
    Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighhor (Ps. 15:1-3).

This command to speak only good of others, as was mentioned above, is given without qualification in Titus 8:2 where Christians are told "to speak evil of no man." Should not commands such as this be considered as earnestly as the teaching of the New Testament not to swear oaths, nor to hate one's brother, nor to take life?

5. Christian Winsoineness

It will have been noted in the several passages Of Scripture quoted in this chapter that Christianity requires not merely the suppression of evil impulses, preventing hatred from breaking out in overt action, but it teaches also the necessity of God's infusing His redeeming love into the very hearts and natures of His children in such a way that their deepest and truest desire is for the welfare, happiness, and salvation of all men. It is therefore not enough for Christians merely to speak kindly and to do acts of love, but they shall actually adorn the doctrine of God. 'This adornment is realized through submission to God, through reading His Word, through meditation and prayer, and through the achievement in life of those virtues described in Galatians 5 as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), which virtues blossom only in the lives of those in whom the Spirit of God is working.

Speech is, of course, one aspect of life which reveals character, and by it sinners become aware of the love of God and of the beauty of the Christian life. Glorifying God by one's speech does not mean the achievement of an artificial, rhetorical style; the Apostle Paul speaks of himself as being "rude in speech" (II Cor. 11:6), which is well paraphrased by Weymouth when he says, "and if in speech I am no orator"-perhaps even a mere repetition of a charge made against the apostle by some Corinthian critic. God is glorified by the speech of the Christian in that He takes weak and fallible human beings, and so infills them with His redeeming love and so blesses their testimony by the work of His Spirit in the hearts of the hearers that men are drawn to God. Paul himself told the Corinthians, "And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:1-5). In Titus 2 the apostle instructs his ministerial helper: "And above all exhibit in your own life a pattern of right conduct, in your teaching sincerity and seriousness and wholesome language which no one can censure, so that our opponents may feel ashamed at having nothing evil to say against us" (Titus 2:7,8 Weymouth).

6. Wisdom and Piety

Concerning the beautiful language of the man of wisdom and piety Solomon sings:

    The wise in heart shall be called prudent;
    And the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning
    The heart of the wise instructeth his mouth,
    And addeth learning to his lips.
    Pleasant words are as a honey-comb,
    Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. Prov. 16:21-24

In the Word of God, Wisdom presents the following appeal:

    Unto you, O men, I call;
    And my voice is to the sons of men.
    O ye simple, understand prudence;
    And, ye fools, be of an understanding heart.
    Hear, for I will speak excellent things;
    And the opening of my lips shall be right things.
    For my mouth shall utter truth;
    And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
    All the words of my mouth are in righteousness;
    There is nothing crooked or perverse in them.
    They are all plain to him that understandeth,
    And right to them that find knowledge.
    Receive my instruction, and not silver;
    And knowledge rather than choice gold.
    For wisdom is better than rubies;
    And all the things that may be desired are not to be compared unto it. Prov. 8:4-11

The above selection from Proverbs 8 and many other Scriptures indicate that the child of God ought to be characterized by conversation which is instructive spiritually. David writes: "The mouth of the righteous talketh of wisdom (Ps. 37:30): and another psalmist says:

    "My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    And the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding" (Ps. 49:3).

In a passage of exquisite beauty the Prophet Malachi writes: "Then they that feared Jehovah spake one with another; and Jehovah hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared Jehovah, and that thought upon his name" (Mal. 3:16).

One of the psalmists prays:

    Let my lips utter praise;
    For thou teachest me thy statutes.
    Let my tongue sing of thy word;
    For all thy commandments are righteousness. Ps:119:117, 172

The New Testament tells Christians to speak in such a way as not merely to please men, but that their language may be pleasing unto God who sees the heart: "Even as we have been approved of God to be in-trusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts" (I Thess. 2:4). The fact that an individual has become a Christian involves his speech: "According to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak" (II Cor. 4:13). The Apostle Peter even dares to say that Christians should speak as the "oracles of God" (I Pet. 4:11), that is, whether in public preaching or teaching or even in making a defense of the Christian faith before civil rulers, Christians shall speak with sincerity and dignity, in the style of the writers of Scripture. Indeed, one commentator states well that "the context implies that the 'speaking' is a gift of God's grace which they have to administer as stewards" (G. W. Blenkin in Cambridge Greek Test for Schools and Colleges. I Peter, Cambridge, 1914, p. 99).

Christians are children of God, born again, having His nature, and concerned for the advancement of His kingdom; and all this ought to manifest itself in their speech. Indeed it will of necessity manifest itself in their speech, for Jesus declared, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:34; cf. Luke 6:45), and, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12:36, 37). How apt also are the verses of Solomon:

    A word fitly spoken
    Is like apples of gold in network of silver. Prov. 25:11

7. Utter Simplicity

Just as the new nature of the child of God reveals itself in words of piety, so the evil heart of the sinner reveals itself by his speech:

    Their throat is an open sepulchre;
    With their tongues they have used deceit:
    The poison of asps is under their lips:
    Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Rom 3:13, 14 (Ps. 5:9; 140:3, 10:7)

The Law of Moses regarded the cursing of one's parents so serious as to require the death of him who thus sinned (Ex. 21:17). The Apostle Paul warns Christians thus: "Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not (Rom. 12:14), and James writes: "But the tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God: out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter? can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs? Neither can salt water yield sweet" (Jas. 3:8-12).

Not only is all profanity absolutely excluded for the child of God, but any words which serve no useful function and which become more or less substitutes for oaths and wicked expletives are to be strictly omitted. Jesus said, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36). As a matter of fact many of the expressions which are used thoughtlessly as "innocent" words, when carefully examined, turn out to be what Webster (New International Dictionary. . .) calls "minced oaths." According to this lexicographer "Gosh" is a minced oath for God, "Gee" is a minced oath for Jesus, "darn" is a colloquial euphemism for "damn," etc. People also sometimes pick up portions of oaths such as, "Well, I'll be," or "So help me." Christians who use such expressions ought to consider whether they are any less guilty of doing wrong than were the Jews who thought that although swearing by God's name was a sin, to swear by heaven, the Temple, or merely one's head, was not a sin (Matt. 12:36).

One must be careful not to tone down the words of Jesus and make them say less than what He meant when He gave the -warning against idle words. The word translated idle (Matt. 12:36) really means nonproductive of good in the sense of being uttered without any thought or meaning, that is, "careless." In fact Weymouth's New Testament in Modern Speech; The Twentieth Century New Testament; The Bible, An American Translation by Smith and Goodspeed; and the Revised Standard New Testament, 1946, all translate the Greek term by the English word "careless." Jesus is therefore telling His followers that they shall not only be scrupulous about their lives, their deeds, and their thoughts, but they shall also be strictly responsible for the words they speak. Jesus, how-ever, was certainly not intending to make Christians fearful, afraid to speak for fear they might sin. Not in the sense of promoting carelessness, but in the sense of being happy and free men in Christ, Christians should remember that to those who belong to Christ there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Furthermore, there certainly is a place for the use of clean expressions -denoting surprise, such as, "Well!"

The Old Testament had allowed, even commanded, the children of Israel to swear by the name of God. Moses, in Deuteronomy 6, after giving to Israel that great command to love Jehovah their God with all their heart, soul, and might, and after warning them not to forget Jehovah after they prospered in the land of Canaan, continued: "Thou shalt fear Jehovah thy God; and him shalt thou serve, and shalt swear by his name" (Deut.6:13). Also, the Prophet Jeremiah told Israel that if she would return unto the Lord "then shalt thou not be removed; and thou shalt swear, As Jehovah liveth, in truth, in justice, and in righteousness (Jer. 4:1, 2). In Leviticus 19 Jehovah had commanded: "And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, and profane the name of thy God: I am Jehovah" (Lev. 19:12).

In view of the clear teaching in the New Testament on the question of oaths, however, the Old Testament commands to swear oaths must be understood in the same way as the Old Testament verses which countenance legal retaliation (Ex. 21, 22, passim), divorce and remarriage (Deut. 24:1-4), the coronation of an earthly king over Israel (I Sam. 8:4-22; cf. Hos. 13:11), polygamy (Ex. 21:10; Lev. 18:18), and the like. If we are to have a proper interpretation of the Old Testament, we must get the same understanding of the Old Testament as Jesus and the apostles manifested. And since the New Testament is the final revelation of God's will for men, we must take it as the perfect and final guide for Christians. what therefore did Jesus say about the swearing of oaths? This is His teaching:

Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: hut I (In the Greek the "I" is emphatic.) say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one. Matt. 5:33-37

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, that say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor. Ye fools and blind: for which is greater, the gold, or the temple that hath sanctified the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gift that is upon it, he is a debtor. Ye blind: for which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? He therefore that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And he that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that sweareth by the heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by that him that sitteth thereon. Matt. 23:16-22

Clearly, it is the intention of Jesus to state in these passages that all swearing is proscribed for His followers. Even the so-called lesser or smaller oaths are wrong because ultimately they involve God. To swear by the Temple involves swearing by Him who dwelt in the Most Holy Place of the Temple. To swear by heaven involved swearing by the throne of God and by Him who sitteth thereon. But why is swearing by God wrong? The answer of Jesus is given in the passage in Matthew 5: "Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black" (Matt. 5:36). Jesus is saying that inasmuch as human beings are not able to perform even the most insignificant act, it is out of place and presumptuous for them to swear by God that they will do this or that. The prohibition of Jesus against the swearing of oaths rests upon the finiteness and human limitations of men. God, on the contrary, is able to perform His oaths. He is infinite; He knows no human limitations. Therefore God may with perfect right swear, for He is able to perform that which He says He will do (Cf. Heb. 6:13-20). We human beings, on the other hand, being finite and subject to error, weakness, sickness, and unavoidable accidents, ought not to swear that we will do anything.

Furthermore, whether or not a given individual can understand the reason for this commandment the facts remain that Jesus gave it, and that it is entirely clear. Our words shall be simply "yes" and "no", for whatsoever is more than these cometh of Satan. His teaching is repeated almost verbatim by His half brother who wrote the Epistle of James: "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment" (Jas. 5:12). It should also be remembered that if a man is a regenerated, earnest, spiritual believer on the Lord Jesus Christ he will not need to be put under oath in order to compel hirn to tell the truth. Furthermore, if a man is a wicked sinner putting him under oath will not necessarily compel him to tell the truth. The Christian ideal is always to be able to say what the Apostle Paul told Festus, namely, that he spoke forth "words of truth and soberness" (Acts 26:25).

One other statement of Jesus needs to be cited in this discussion on the simplicity which should characterize the speech of the Christian: "Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even the Christ" (Matt: 23:8-10). The two verses which follow these prohibitions are epexegetical, that is, they interpret the commandment of Christ for us. Jesus is striking at an improper use of titles. This does not mean that Jesus was opposed to courtesy nor that Christians should not render honor to those to whom honor is due; both Paul and Peter are clear on that point. Paul certainly did nothing wrong by addressing the procurator of Judea as "Most excellent Festus" (Acts 26:25). It is also clear that Jesus is not asking Christians to refuse to recognize their earthly parent by addressing him as "Father." It is the employment of terms such as "Father" or "Rabbi" as ecclesiastical titles which Jesus is opposing. And that is, sadly enough, exactly where such titles have become common, in flat violation of this warning and prohibition by Jesus. Why should it be necessary to address a fellow Christian as a reverend person, a bishop, a most reverend, or right reverend sir, his eminence, etc.? The Christian view of the church is that it is not a hierarchy, but a brotherhood. We have one Master, even Christ, and we are all brethren. Ordination does not lift a man above his brethren and make him spiritually their superior. Let us be content to address one another in the Christian Church as Brother or Sister, rather than as Bishop, Reverend, Doctor, or Professor. There is no place for titles in the church of Christ. It may be that there is a small place for a limited indication of degrees in academic circles for the sake of an institution, not personal honor, but never is this the case in the Christian brotherhood. (Someone has remarked that the only place for acadmic "handles" is in the academic "bucket.")

8. Testimony and Edification

The Old Testament tells us that there is a "time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccl. 3:7). The Prophet Isaiah says: "The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary" (Isa. 50:4). The testimony of the prophet is pre-eminently true of every Christian believer; God wishes each of His children to be a living witness of His grace, eager to share with others the goodness of God and His salvation. when the Jewish leaders threatened the Apostles Peter and John, demanding that they no longer teach in the name of Jesus, the apostles replied: "whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard." (Acts 4:19, 20). After the apostles were reunited with the brotherhood, their prayer included the following petition: "And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest forth thy hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy Servant Jesus" (Acts 4:29, 30). It requires courage to be a herald of the Gospel when by preaching one faces certain persecution; consequently the Apostle Paul asks the Ephesian Church to pray for him, "that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:19, 20). The same apostle also reminded the Christians of Thessalonica that his coming to them had not been in vain: "But having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as ye know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but even as we have been approved of God to be intrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts. For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ" (I Thess. 2:2-6). In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul glories in his imprisonment and his bonds saying: "Most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear" (Phil. 1:14).

The Lord Jesus also gave the following instructions to those who should be put on trial for their faith: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you; yea and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:16-20). Part of the opportunity of Christians therefore is to testify to all men, both high and low, of all classes, concerning the saving Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another opportunity that Christians have is to comfort and edify and teach each other. After telling the Thessalonian Christians of the glorious second coming of Jesus to raise the saints in Christ and to transform those believers who are still living at His coming, the apostle adds: "wherefore comfort one another with these words" (I Thess. 4:18). And in the Corinthian letter Paul says: "Follow after love; yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God; for no man understandeth; but in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church" (I Cor. 14:1-4). This right of prophesying to edify the church Paul extended to every believer in the church: "For ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted" (I Cor. 14:31). Paul concludes: "wherefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy" (I Cor. 14:39).

In a summary paragraph the Apostle Paul writes:

    Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:12-17

9. The Eloquence of Silence

There are times in the life of the Christian believer when he can give a more eloquent testimony to his Christian experience and to his victory in Christ by remaining silent than by arguing or speaking back to his accusers. Psalm 106 states that Moses "spake unadvisedly with his lips" (Ps. 106:33). And in Acts 23 we read that when the high priest Ananias interrupted the Apostle Paul at the beginning of his speech and commanded one standing by to smite Paul on the mouth, Paul turned to the priest and said sharply: "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" (Acts 23:3). Someone who was standing there said to Paul: "Revilest thou God's high priest?" This tried the apostle beyond human endurance and sowith keen irony he replied: "I knew not, brethren, that he was high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people," that is, "Pardon me, I did not know that a man who could speak like that could be high priest!" This is not to suggest that any other human being would have behaved better than the apostle under such trying circumstances; nevertheless we read of converse behavior in the Gospels when the Lord Jesus was on trial for His life before the Roman governor and the Jews were heaping charges against Him, charges which were completely untrue. "And Pilate again asked him, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they accuse thee of. But Jesus no more answered anything; insomuch that Pilate marvelled" (Mark 15:4, 5). It is not difficult to decide whether it was Paul or Christ who better exemplified the spirit which should characterize the child of God. Peter writes, "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (I Pet. 2:21). This beautiful spirit of nonresistance had been prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah seven centuries before: "He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Isa. 53:7). There is not only a time to speak, but there is a time to keep silent (Amos 5:13).

A Prayer

Almighty God, our kind heavenly Father: we come before Thee confessing that we have fallen short of Thy glory. We rejoice in Thy mercy and in Thy gracious promise of forgiveness. And we pray that Thou mayest set a seal upon our lips, and grant that by our life and by our words we may always glorify Thee, our Father in heaven. We thank Thee for the perfect example of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mayest Thou help us to imitate Him in our life, and grant that He may so live in us as to cause us both to will and to do of Thy good pleasure. Grant, our Father, that the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts may be acceptable in Thy sight, 0 Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Above from Separated unto God by John C. Wenger (pp. 95-110), © copyright 1951 by Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, Pennsylvania USA. All rights reserved.
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June 22, 2000