The Ten - Conversations that Destroy Community
Exodus 20: 16
For the last 12 weeks we have been walking through the Ten Commandments. We started this series by looking at the fact that God saved the Israelites, invited them into a relationship with Him, and then established these laws so that The Children of Israel would know what the relationship was supposed to look like.
Today we make our way to the 9th commandment; the most damaging of all the commands because it is the most widely accepted. We live in a culture that loves dirty laundry. We see it in our work places, schools, and even our homes and churches. People talk about other people. We spread rumors and slander one another.
I have even had to stop people from sharing prayer requests because they started off well, and then: “Jeremy would you pray for my neighbor?” that’s ok, but they continue, “They are having marriage difficulties because he’s an alcoholic. But you can’t blame him, his daddy was an alcoholic and his mom … well let me tell you she was a hot mess, did you know that she had 6 different kids from…”
We are bombarded by all kinds of lies, gossip, and slander that there are times it’s hard to know where the line is or if we crossed it. I thought Rick Warren gave a great definition of gossip and how we know when we are gossiping. He said this, “When we are talking about a situation with somebody who is neither part of the problem or part of the solution, then we are probably gossiping.”
We can get in a lot of trouble with our words. My Mom’s dad used to say, “It’s amazing that God made us with two ears and one mouth and we still talk twice as much as we listen.” When you think about how much we actually talk, there are lots of opportunities to make mistakes.
As I was thinking about the ninth commandment and how it applies to our community my mind immediately went to the book of James. I believe that James gives the strongest talk about our speech in the New Testament. Let’s look at James 3, starting in verse 3: We put a bit into the mouth of a horse to make it obey us, and we are able to make it go where we want. Or think of a ship: big as it is and driven by such strong winds, it can be steered by a very small rudder, and it goes wherever the pilot wants it to go. So it is with the tongue: small as it is, it can boast about great things. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself. Man is able to tame and has tamed all other creatures-- wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish. But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison. We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse our fellow- man, who is created in the likeness of God. Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth. My brothers, this should not happen
When you go to the doctor and you’re not feeling good, what’s one of the first things the doctor says to you? “Stick out your tongue.” Maybe your Dr. knows what God has known all along, your tongue reveals something about what’s going on inside of you. Look at what James tells us about our speech:
First, James knows that your tongue directs your life.
If you want to know where you are going to go in the next five to ten years, look at what you say. If you want to know the direction your life is moving, look at your conversations. Look at the words that are coming out of your mouth. We shape our words but our words shape us.
He gives us a couple of examples on how the tongue directs your life. First of all, he says it’s like your horse. How do you control a huge, beautiful, muscular animal? You put a little piece of metal right over the tongue and you can steer that horse wherever he needs it to go. James says that’s what the tongue is like. You have this little bitty muscle that has a huge impact on our lives. It can make you or break you. It can open doors for you into the future. It can close doors for you. It can help other people. It can hurt other people. It’s wide open. It will determine the direction of your life.
James gives another example. Think about a ship, like the Allure of the Seas in Port Everglades Florida. It’s the largest cruse ship in the world, and will accommodate over 8,500 people and has 18 decks. It has a dance hall, theatre, ice skating rink, and a Starbucks. It’s bigger than huge! Yet it’s steered by a relatively speaking small rudder that directs that ship into the wind and waves of the sea. It takes it here and there. James says the same is true for our tongue. It literally directs your life.
The next thing he says is the tongue can do immense damage.
The tongue has tremendous force for either good or harm. He says: Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself
James is giving us the uncensored, no holds barred truth about the tongue. Can’t you see that truth in your own life? The tongue can be a restless evil. It can be a deadly poison. It can destroy lives like a fire.
Last year, in the 4 days that I was at Pepperdine, a small campfire got out of control and eventually destroyed over 13,000 acres and damaged more than 2,000 homes and 100 commercial properties. It just takes a spark and then it gets out of control. James says the same is true for our tongue. You can make a statement or a comment and then things begin to get out of control.
One of the big problems with gossip isn’t just that gossip hurts other people. It’s that in the statement of gossip we often get the story wrong. How many of you remember the telephone game? You set people in a circle and you tell one person a sentence. Then that person tells it to the next person, and the next person and the next one. You go all the way around the circle and the last person makes the statement of what they heard. It gets messed up, doesn’t it?
Bonnie Miller at the Chicago Tribune wrote: “Gossip – always hurtful but once limited to note passing, phone calls, and scrawls on bathroom walls, is more pervasive and vicious as ever thanks to the Internet.”
A senior in high school said that as an eighth grader she was the subject of an online rumor that she had slept with the football team. She said, “It didn’t matter where it came from. People wanted to believe it. There was no way to refute it. I wanted to kill myself.” That’s the pain and the devastation that can come from gossip. Do you understand why James says the tongue is full of deadly poison.
Finally James says, the tongue reveals our hearts.
The words that we say point to something deeper that’s going on in our lives. James says, “We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse our fellow- man, who is created in the likeness of God. Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth.”
I am not sure how deeply that convicts you, but now James has my full attention. We come in here and sing songs, praise our Lord and Father. We say, God, You are good and we love You. We are so grateful for who You are. You are amazing.
Then we walk right out the doors to our cars. We say, “Can you believe them, who do they think they are? They think they are so much better than us, but I know that …”
We walk into our house and sit around the table and talk about other folks and the mess that they have made in their lives, or how we think they are a horrible person. To curse somebody doesn’t mean you say a curse word. It’s a lot deeper than that. You could curse someone by slandering them.
Slander is similar to gossip, but it’s even more devious. When we slander we are not only talking about a situation with somebody who is neither part of the problem or part of the solution. We are doing it with the intent of making someone else look bad. It’s an effort to demean someone’s character by the way you talk about them. It’s speaking about someone in a way that lowers their reputation in the eyes of others. We are trying to make someone created in the image of God look less than.
God doesn’t take our words lightly, because He knows that there are power in words. Remember that God used words to create everything we see, everything we know, and everything we are. Jesus was so concerned about the power of words He said in Matthew 12:36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
We all wrestle with this. I wrestle with it. I’m not standing up here this morning like I have it all together. I struggle with it. Do you know where I find I struggle with it the most? It’s in the four walls of my own home, particularly with the boys. I love them so much but they are your typical boys. Sometimes they will do something and I’m tired and worn out. I’ll snap. I’m all stressed out and I’ll snap a little bit and say things I regret.
James is saying this shouldn’t be. “Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth. My brothers, this should not happen.” We must watch our tongue because people are made in the likeness of God. They are valuable and important. The words we choose to use can foster the community that God created or tear it apart.
As we close this morning I want to give us a few suggestion on how we can use our language to foster the community of believers. Let’s look at how we can avoid accusing anyone falsely.
First we need to learn how to look beneath the words.
If you struggle with your tongue … what am I saying if you struggle? Since we all struggle with our tongue, we need to ask ourselves why? Why do we say things about people that aren’t true? Or that are half-truths? Why are we so insecure about ourselves that we feel the need to put other people down, or lie about them, or slander them? We talk about people because we want to look morally superior to someone who was created in the image of God. We use our language to put ourselves in a greater position. That’s why we use our words to bring destruction and pain. If that is going on in our hearts and lives, then we need to look beneath the words and acknowledge the insecurity in my life. Maybe we need to realize that God loves me just as I am and we don’t have to make ourselves look morally superior to anyone else.
Maybe we gossip about other people because we are trying to connect dots that are not supposed to be connected. A funny thing about human nature is that we often criticize other folks for our own weakness. For example: I have a relative, by marriage, who constantly accuses and gripes about other people lying. But we learned pretty early on, that this member of our family never allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story.
People who are cynical usually gossip and criticize the cynicism they see in someone else. If you are a proud person and you don’t like the fact that you struggle with that pride issue, you’ll often criticize other people around you. You see it a mile away because that’s what you don’t like in yourself. We amplify it in others. If that’s the case, then look beneath those words. What do we need to work through in our own lives to deal with that?
The next thing we need to do is ask God for help.
While James says that no man has tamed the tongue, he doesn’t say that God can’t help us tame the tongue. Like so many things in my life, under my own strength and power I can’t control much. But with God’s power and God’s strength we can go a long way towards taming the tongue.
I love the Psalm in 141 where David prays, Help me to guard my words whenever I say something. Don't let me want to do evil or waste my time doing wrong with wicked people. If we prayed that prayer on a regular basis, imagine what God would do in our lives. Ask for God’s help.
This is a place where we speak words of life to one another. We are a community that says, we’re not going to gossip. We’re not going to share hear say. We’re not going to engage in this deadly poison that can destroy lives, family, and people. We’re not going to spread those stories. We’re not going to hear them or pass them on. We’re going to put a stop to them. We’re going to share words of life.
This world is difficult. We have enough words of anguish, anxiety, pain, and death in our culture. It’s all around us. You have friends who can cut you down with their tongue. But when we walk in these doors we are in a place where we speak words of life.
Let me encourage you to be involved in a small group. I pray our groups make a commitment to speak words of life. Our small groups must be a place where you can come together while you are going through a hard time and find folks who say, I know you are hurting. I know you are feeling all alone. I know you feel like life doesn’t make sense but God is good and He’s there. He loves you and cares for you. We care about you. We’re going to walk this road with you. You don’t have to do it alone.
When someone doesn’t feel like they are good enough in their job, look at them and say, you’re a child of the King. You are good enough. You are worthy. You can do this. Our world is starving for encouragement and true community. What kind of power and influence we can have in this community if all of us decided that we’re going to encourage one another. Today as you leave I want you to find someone to encourage and speak words of life to them.
I want you to understand that God not only created this community for us, He expects us to do the right thing in our conversations to foster and grow the depth of this community. If you are having an issue with someone Jesus says in Matthew 18 that you go to them and talk it out together. It might be easier to gossip, it might be more satisfying to slander, but we are called to do what’s right and not what’s easy. Jesus also says in Matthew 5 if you know someone has a issue with you, then before you come to worship, lay your sacrifice down and go find them and talk it out, try to find common ground. Jesus paints a beautiful picture of two people living in community who have gotten crossways with one another. They both go looking for one another to make it right, because community is sacred.
As we close I want everyone here to take a deep breath. Breath in with me … Now breath out… If you haven’t heard anything else I have said today I need you to understand that the one who gave you that very breath, is the one who designed you for community and then created a community for you to exist and thrive in. Since God gave us that very breath, the air that comes into our lungs and gives us life, we must try to use that life giving breath to speak words of life to one another.