A Great New Year's Resolution (2 Timothy 2:16-17)
2 Timothy 2:16-17
A very happy good morning and post-Merry Christmas to everybody, almost happy New Year. If we could take our bibles and open them to the book of 2 Timothy 2, verse 16. The title of our message is A Great New Year’s Resolution. It’s kind of an interesting Sunday, it’s the last Sunday in 2015, as Ed Jones reminded us of, kind of looking backward at Christmas and then forward to New Year’s, thinking about what the new year may bring. Maybe you have some goals, some books you want to read, a few pounds you want to shed.
But I think there’s a tremendous goal that all of us should have. In fact, if you can achieve this goal, not only will 2016 be different for you but your whole life will change. And one of the reasons I enjoy verse by verse teaching so much is I don’t get to pick the subjects; God picks them, and the subject is whatever verse we left off last time and where we happen to be today. And there are some things mentioned in these verses, verses 16-17, most of us just gloss over, but the fact of the matter is if you can actually inculcate, incorporate through God’s power, pay attention to these verses I believe it will, more than any other single thing as a Christian, alter the course of your life. How’s that for a promo?
These verses, of course, appear in the book of 2 Timothy, it’s a book, as we have said, written to a young man who is struggling. He’s a pastor and so he’s struggling, and that kind of goes with the territory I guess, Amen! And he’s really thinking about, very carefully, whether ministry is everything that it’s been cracked up to be, maybe he ought to just throw in the towel, things are getting tough. Paul writes this whole book, not to get this young man, Timothy, saved; it’s very clear he’s already saved. It’s a book to get him to endure in his calling, in spite of adversity.
Chapter 1, Paul called Timothy simply to endure; we’ve worked our way through that. And then beginning in chapter 2 Paul creates for young Timothy ten metaphors or word pictures of what endurance looks like in the Christian life. Paul has used the example of a teacher, a soldier, an athlete, a farmer; Paul points to Christ Himself as an example of endurance. Paul even points to himself as an example of endurance. Paul gives Timothy a trustworthy statement to motivate him to endure. And where we find ourselves is this eighth metaphor or word picture of endurance, the example of a workman.
Here’s kind of how we can divide up verses 14-18 as Paul camps on this metaphor of a workman. What to avoid, verse 14; what to embrace, verse 15. And then he gets right back to the subject, what to avoid again, verse 16, the first part of the verse. And then Paul doesn’t just say what to avoid, in the second part of verse 16 he tells Timothy why to avoid it. And if all of that weren’t enough he gives three illustrations explaining the point that he just left off with in verse 16. Here is why to avoid it and here are three illustrations demonstrating, or exemplifying why you should avoid something that Paul is going to bring to Timothy’s attention.
We have already looked at in prior sessions what to avoid, verse 14; what Paul tells Timothy to avoid in verse 14 is wrangling about words that have no consequence, getting into disputes and divisions about things that the Bible just really hasn’t spoken on one way or the other. He has moved on into verse 15, which we’ve already covered, telling Timothy what to embrace. He is to be a worker of the Word. You recall verse 15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” In other words, Timothy, rather than being an expert in what God hasn’t said you need to become an expert in what God has said.
And leaving that behind for just a moment he goes into verse 16, where we pick it up this morning, and he gets right back into the subject of what to avoid. So you’ll notice that what to avoid, verse 14 and verse 16 sort of sandwich what Timothy is to do. One of the things I like about the Bible is it doesn’t say what not to do, it says what to do. Every time God gives a prohibition against something He is protecting a greater concept.
For example, when He says don’t commit adultery He’s protecting the sanctity of marriage. When He says don’t steal, don’t covet, He is protecting the ownership of private property. When He says don’t murder He is protecting the sanctity of life. So in a sense verses 14 and 16 are what to avoid so what Timothy is to do, focus on the Word of God, is promoted and protected.
But notice, if you will, verse 16, “But avoid worldly and empty chatter,” you’ll notice the contrastive conjunction “but,” the Greek word de, and it is sort of a contrast with what Paul has told Timothy to do back in verse 15, here’s what you are to do Timothy, you’re to focus on the Word. But in contrast to that, I want you to avoid something. You’ll notice also this word “avoid.” It simply means to turn away from. In Greek that verb, “avoid” is in the imperative mood. What does that mean? It means it’s a command; it’s not a suggestion. He’s not saying why don’t you kind of try to stay away from this; he’s saying stay away from this, in an ironclad way.
Well, what is he to avoid exactly? As you look at the second part of verse 16, “But avoid worldly and empty chatter.” I spent a little time on this Greek expression “worldly and empty chatter” as it’s translated. Here are some definitions of it: foolish and empty talk, godless and foolish talk, talking the way fools talk, and it also talks about talking with a smirk on your face. Just talking about things that are of no real validity, things that may seem important to the natural mind but are very unimportant to God, worldly and empty chatter.
Now do we have any illustrations of this? In fact, when you start looking into this and start kind of tracing it through Paul’s writings, particularly the pastoral letters, you’ll discover that this is an issue that’s dominant on Paul’s mind. He doesn’t want to get Timothy sidetracked into conversations about things that really don’t matter. I read some of these verses in the prior session but I just want to read them to you again.
1 Timothy 1:4, I just want to show you the dominance of this idea in Paul’s thinking. “nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.”
1 Timothy 4:7, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”
1 Timothy 6:4-5, keep in mind these two letters, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy are written to the same man, Timothy, “he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,  and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter” same expression that we have in our passage, “avoid worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge.” Some versions translate it this way, “falsely called science,” things that men think are scientific facts, but in reality have no value to God.  “which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.”
Titus is also a pastoral letter; Titus 3:9-10 says, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” He says,  “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” Reject a person that wants to major on these things, Paul says, and bring division.
It’s so interesting to me that the Bible tells us what we are to say and wrap ourselves up in and it’s also equally weighty when it tells us what not to say and what to stay away from. When I think of “worldly and empty chatter,” I think of people analyzing life from the human viewpoint, having an opinion about life from the perspective of man rather than the perspective of God and venting that opinion over and over again.
I think of Job’s wife. Job 2:9-10, you remember all those struggles that Job had and how his wife analyzed that from the human point of view? “Then his wife said to him,” Job 2:9, “‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!’” Exclamation point! Worldly and empty chatter.  “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
Job, in the midst of a crisis, stayed away from “empty and worldly chatter,” his wife, by contrast, condemned herself by moving into “empty and worldly chatter.” Job continued to look at his problems from the divine viewpoint, his wife looked at them from the human viewpoint.
All of this exhortation to abstain from empty and worldly chatter, it is so indicting to us as a culture because we have become a nation of talkers. In fact, I was actually going to title this sermon A Nation of Talkers. In fact, we admire talkers so much that you can even get yourself elected to the White House with no resume based on how you speak. Isn’t that interesting, how much we value speech? Of course, what I just said there could condemn several Presidents, don’t think I’m condemning a single President. We have TV talk shows, we have a plethora of call in radio shows, we can even get on social media and get into what are called chat rooms, talk, talk, talk, chat, chat, chat, words, words words. In fact, the opportunity to express your opinion today is almost unlimited. You can do it in all kinds of different ways and we have a lot of people out there expressing a lot of different opinions.
And what Paul is saying to Timothy here is simply this: there are a lot of conversations out there that you ought to just avoid. There are an awful lot of conversations out there that frankly are not worth your time. One of the things I’ve been studying this week is the doctrine of the antichrist. Now isn’t that weird, on Christmas, to be studying something like that. I love prophecy. I have a couple of books on the doctrine of the antichrist that I haven’t had a chance to read, and it’s interesting that these books are pointing out the dominant feature of the antichrist is his big mouth. In fact, one commentator calls the antichrist Mr. Big Mouth, because what you’ll discover as you study passages related to the antichrist is he’s always talking.
Revelation 13:6, of the antichrist, or the beast, says “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.” The antichrist is known for what he says. A good question for us to answer is: is that how we’re known? Are we known for our character or are we known for our speech, a nation of talkers. Instead of getting off into these very empty worldly conversations that amount almost to nothing, Paul says in verse 14 and verse 16, which surround verse 15, what I want you to do is I want you to focus on Scripture in your conversation.
Now what I have here are two tests for whether we should participate in conversations or not. Now many people say well, the Bible says we shouldn’t talk. The Bible never says that. What you’ll discover is the Bible tells us and exhorts us to sound speech frequently, I’ll give you some examples of that in a minute. But what constitutes sound speech? Let me give you basically two tests to follow and then I’ll give you some Scriptures that help back it up. Number 1, is it edifying. Well, what does the word “edifying” mean? It means to build. Does the speech build somebody or is the speech designed to tear down? Number 2, is the speech biblical? Is it edifying, number 1, and number 2, is it biblical? Let’s take the first one first, shall we?
Is it edifying? Ephesians 4:29-30 says this: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Test number is: is what’s coming out of our mouths, if I make a decision to say something, if I make a decision to participate in a conversation, is it edifying. You see, the Bible never says don’t talk; what it says is when you do talk make sure it’s ministering grace or edification or building to those who need it.
Now you look at this word in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth,” I have misunderstood that passage for years. What I thought it meant is no profanity. Obviously profanity, cussing would be included, but that’s really not Paul’s point. It’s not just profanity, it’s anything that is coming forth from our tongues or our mouths which really is not ministering grace, it’s ministering poison or destruction, because the Bible does say that life or death proceed from the tongue.
I do not teach that the way they teach it on so-called Christian television, that you can create your own reality, You cannot command a new house into existence as a Christian, you cannot command money into your bank account, our words don’t have that kind of power that put us on the level of God. But the fact of the matter is the tongue has tremendous power. The tongue can set the mood or the tone of an entire day. It can set the tone or the mood for an entire family, an entire church.
There is life and death, in a certain sense, in the power of the tongue. And so when we speak is what is coming forth from our mouth wholesome in the sense that it’s building? Does it come forth to help somebody at a specific need, at a moment in time. Does it minister grace or does it minister destruction.
Now you say well, is this just a New Testament idea? Oh my goodness, read the book of Proverbs sometime. Proverbs 25:11, just one verse, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in the right circumstances.” See, human beings in their fallen state are so clumsy with their language that when you find a person that has, through wisdom, the ability to speak the exact right words to minister to someone in exactly the right circumstances, the book of Proverbs says that is rare. In fact, it is so rare it is precious; it’s “Like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
And it’s interesting, to continue on with Ephesians 4:30, the very next verse, after it condones proper speech and condemns improper speech, verse 30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by which you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We have a tendency to bifurcate verse 29 from verse 30. Verse 29 is exhorting proper speech and then verse 30 says don’t “grieve the Holy Spirit,” indicating that the Holy Spirit is a person. Yes, He’s deity but He’s also a person and where does He live? He lives in you, He lives in me. And when my speech is not wholesome, not edifying, doesn’t minister grace at the very moment that people need it but in fact, brings forth death and destruction; the Holy Spirit, who is in us forever, the Holy Spirit who has sealed us for the day of redemption, is grieved. Isn’t that amazing? The Holy Spirit has an emotional reaction to destructive speech in and among God’s people.
Test number 1 is, is this speech, is this conversation really edifying? Our call is not to speak; our call is to speak correctly, at the right moment, and minister life rather than death.
Number 2, is the speech biblical? Now when I say “biblical” I’m not necessarily talking about citing a Bible verse, although I’ll give you some examples of speech involving citations of biblical verses. But is the notion that is coming out of my mouth rooted and grounded in biblical truth or not? In fact, 1 Peter 4:11 says, “Whoever speaks,” notice we are called to speak, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God….” Peter says when you open your mouth and talk you should do it in such a way that the actual oracles of God and the utterances of God are coming forth.
Now think what the Lord took Peter through to get him to learn that lesson, because one day, in Caesarea Philippi, Peter opened his mouth and spoke, and in one instance he said the right thing; he correctly identified who Jesus was, Jesus pronounced blessings upon him. And then Jesus began to do something that went outside of Peter’s worldview, Jesus began to talk about His death. And Peter took Jesus aside, you can read all of this in Matthew 16:13-23, He took him aside and began to rebuke him. Can you imagine that, rebuking God!!! Come here, God, I have a few words for you; You stand over here in the corner while I give you a piece of my mind. That’s what Peter did, and He tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross, this will never happen to You. Jesus looked at Peter, addressed the spiritual force that was motivating Peter’s statement and said, “Get behind me” what? “Satan.” I mean….
I’m sure that statement rattled Peter to the core of his being. He probably said something thinking it was his own idea, as many of us do, not understanding that in that moment of careless speech we can actually be giving the devil a pulpit. And thirty years later, as Peter wrote these words, about A.D. 64, he had learned his lesson when he said, “Whoever speaks is to do so as the one who is speaking the utterances of God.” Take it from me folks, I learn the hard way, Peter is saying.
Number 1, is it edifying? Number 2, is it biblical. It’s interesting to me that when Jesus was tested by the devil in the Judean wilderness and He was pushed in three temptations to the furthest degree a human being has ever been pushed, in the area of lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and the pride of life Jesus responded to each temptation verbally, orally, audibly, by saying “it is written.”
Matthew 4:4, temptation number 1, “It is written.” Matthew 4:7, second temptation, “It is written.” Matthew 4:10, third temptation, “It is written.” And every time He spoke He quoted the Bible. And what mystifies me is the book He chose to quote—Deuteronomy. Most Christians haven’t even read the book of Deuteronomy, let along use it strategically to ward off temptation. And Jesus responded verbally with citations from the book of Deuteronomy.
There is a place for biblical speech.
In fact, did you know that when Jesus died, as He was dying, in the events leading up to His death He made seven statements from the cross. I’ve heard whole sermon series on these statements. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” “Woman, behold your Son, behold your mother.” “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” “I thirst.” “It is finished.” “Father, into Your hand I commend My Spirit.”
[Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do … .”
Luke 23:43, “And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
John 19:26, “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby,
He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’”
Matthew 27:46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘ELI, ELI,
LAMA SABACHTHANI?’ that is, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’”
John 19:28, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished to
Fulfill the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’”
John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished!’”
Luke 24:46, “And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands
I commit My Spirit.’”]
And that’s about as far as my knowledge went with those seven statements on the cross and how astonishing it is to learn that when you actually get down to brass tacks and study these out you will find every single statement at the worst point in His life, is either a quote from the Scripture or a paraphrase from the Scripture. The first statement He’s quoting Isaiah 53:12. Second statement, Isaiah 53:10-11. Third statement, Exodus 20:12. Fourth statement, Psalm 22:1. Fifth statement, Psalm 69:21. Sixth statement, Psalm 22:31. Last statement, Psalm 31:5. I have this on our website under sermon archives if you ever have a desire to study this out.
[Isaiah 53:12, “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty
with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the
Isaiah 53:10-11, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would
render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days;
and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.  As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.
Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the
land which the LORD your God gives you.”
Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Psalm 69:21, “…and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”
Psalm 22:31, “They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that he has performed it.
Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth.”]
It’s just fascinating to me that biblical speech, whether it’s His final breath of life on the cross, or whether it’s warding off Satan in the wilderness, is anchored in Scripture. Now sometimes you can quote a scriptural idea without quoting the exact verbiage, but I think the point of the idea is when we speak, number 1, it ought to be edifying, and number 2, if Jesus is our role model in any sense (and I hope He is) it ought to be biblical.
And watching Christ in action is so different than what Paul is reminding Timothy to stay away from here when he talks about worldly and empty chatter, chatter or words that really have no edificational or biblical significance. And here we are approaching New Year’s, New Year’s resolution time. What is the biggest New Year’s resolution you can pull out in the year 2016, greater than any goal you may possibly have? And it’s simply this: Lord, teach me the discipline of controlled speech. In fact, if you were to, if I were to under God’s power consistently implement this throughout the year 2016 it would change the year 2016 for you and me. In fact, it would change, I believe, the course and the direction of our entire life.
I’ve got to bring in James 3 here a little bit, don’t I? The Lord’s brother wrote a very inditing chapter, James 3:1-12, it’s all about controlling the tongue. I won’t read the whole chapter to you but I would challenge you to go home and study that. Just a couple of verses, James 3:7-8 says, “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.  But no one can tame the tongue; for it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” What is James saying here? He is saying look at all of the things the human race can accomplish; look at the animals it contains. In fact, you fast forward into the 20th century and into the 21st century and you look at the things we are capable of doing through air travel, ocean travel, even putting a man on the moon, and the human race has boasted all of these exploits, but James says there’s one thing the human race has never got under control. There’s one thing that’s never tamed. It’s that 2 x 2 slab of mucous membrane between the gums called the tongue.
You see, the tongue is the hardest thing in your life to control, isn’t it. And yet, if under God’s power that can be controlled, controlling everything else is easier, isn’t it? If you control the most difficult thing controlling the lesser thing becomes simple. That’s why I said if we took seriously these biblical injunctions about controlled speech it would change the course of your entire life. It’s kind of similar to some studies that I’ve run into related to youth who decide to forego sexual activity until marriage, youth who decide to take seriously the biblical commands about sexual purity, youth who decide to remain chaste in an unchaste society. When you track other things involved in those under self-discipline sexually what you’ll discover is academically their test scores are higher, their performance at work is higher, their test-taking skills are higher, their relationships are a better quality.
And why is that? Because the sex drive is one of the most difficult things to control. It requires discipline to control the sex drive and yet if you can demonstrate the discipline necessary to control the sex drive as a youth it’s demonstrating that you’re a disciplined person and that discipline will naturally carry over into other avenues and venues of life.
See, we’re not teaching our youth this, are we? What you do with the sex drive will control or it will dictate the course of your life because it requires discipline to be good at anything, doesn’t it. And it’s the same sort of issue that James is surfacing here with the tongue. If the tongue can be mastered, and admittedly it’s the most difficult thing to master, but if it can be mastered under God’s power, think what else you could master that’s less difficult. Think what could happen in your finances. Think what could happen in your relationships. Think what could happen in your prayer life. Think what could happen in your Bible study habits? Think what could happen in your work ethic, at your job. Think what could happen in your Christian service. Because you’ve mastered the greatest thing mastering the other things is easier.
You say well, pastor, I’m really struggling with this issue of the tongue, I mean, this is hard; what’s my problem? Your problem is what all of our problem is; the tongue is nothing more than a window to the heart. What comes up in the bucket was down in the well. The tongue simply resonates what is naturally taking place in our hearts. I can tell a lot about a person by what’s coming out of their mouth. If a person is speaking angry words it’s easy to conclude that person has anger in their heart. If a person is speaking covetous words then that is happening inside of their heart. Conversely, if a person can’t wait to praise God then rejoicing is what is happening already in their heart.
Don’t take my word for it, take Christ’s words for it. Notice Matthew 12:34, “…For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” In other words, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. And so if we find ourselves at the end of the year, 2015, speaking venom, angry, poison, frustration, sadness, we have to look into our hearts and say Lord, what is going on inside of me, because these things are coming out of my mouth and they’re simply a reflection of my heart.
And then I can’t leave out Matthew 12:36, a couple of verses later, “But I tell you,” this is Jesus speaking, the highest authority, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” WOW! I read something like that and I say Lord, thank you for Romans 8:1, For “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because I, without the shed blood of Christ, would hate to be in that judgment.
It’s interesting here, He says, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak,” this is an interesting question here, what is the “careless word”? A “careless word” is an unscripted word. You do not evaluate my character by what I am saying to you right now because I’m largely going off a script; I have my notes, I have my organization, I know what I’m going to say. Rather, you evaluate my character by what’s coming out of my mouth when I’m off script, off camera, off microphone, because that is more of a reflection of what is really happening in my heart, because my speech is less controlled in that circumstance and I am naturally speaking what I really am thinking.
These poor politicians that get caught with a hot mike; I think, for example, of Gordon Brown who was running for the big position there in Europe, I don’t know, maybe ten years ago, maybe a little less, how he was speaking to a woman on camera, an elderly woman who disagreed with him, and he was very polite, he was very courteous, and then he got in his limousine with his security detail and they started down the road, where he thought nobody was listening, the problem was the microphone was on, and the news grabbed it and put it all over the place. What did this guy start saying? He started saying what he was really thinking, how the woman was closed minded, tearing down this elderly woman, how the woman was a bigot. So the initial conversation between Gordon Brown and this woman is the scripted word; what is happening in the limousine when he thinks nobody is listening is the careless word.
What Jesus is saying is you judge people, not based on the script, you judge people on the careless word, the unscripted word. And that’s why Jesus says we’re going to give an account of every unscripted word they’ve ever spoken, because the careless word is more of a reflection on what they really feel.
Verse 16, “But avoid worldly and empty chatter,” well why? Why should I “avoid worldly and empty chatter?” Look at the second part of verse 16, “for it will lead to further ungodliness.” Notice the English word “it.” You ask well, what is the nearest antecedent to “it” because if you can find the nearest antecedent most of the time it will tell you what the “it” is speaking of. The nearest antecedent to “it” is this “empty chatter” that Paul has been condemning. “It” that is empty and worldly chatter that “will lead to,” notice what he says, verse 16, “further ungodliness.” Greater ungodliness.
In other words, something starts off bad, it starts to get compounded, sort of like interest in a bank, the more the money is there the more the interest compounds, the more we’re hanging around with this worldly and empty chatter, which is not edifying nor biblical, the more it starts to compound, the more it starts to sort of roll like a snowball, the more it becomes something even worse. It may be ungodly in the conversation but Paul says stay away from it because it will lead you into further ungodliness.
The fact of the matter is the more empty talk we engage in the longer the rope becomes that hangs us. And isn’t it interesting that idle words have a tendency to accelerate our own demise. This is why Proverbs, back to Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 27 says, “He who restrains his words has knowledge,” do you want to be considered a person of knowledge? Then restrain what is coming forth from our mouths.
Proverbs 10:19 says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” And what do we have today? Infinite opportunities to express my words: Facebook, twitter, blogging, e-mail. And one of the things that’s difficult for us to understand is when we create these words they don’t just disappear into space somewhere. They’re electronically stored to be resurfaced, perhaps, in the future. One of the things that I’ve gotten myself into more trouble than anything else is e-mail. Why is that? Because e-mail, when you think about it, is a very poor communication method. When I’m e-mailing you and you’re e-mailing me you can’t see my facial expressions, you cannot see my voice tone or inclinations, I can’t see those things coming from you and it’s so easy to misinterpret the message. It’s so easy for me to misinterpret you and for you to misinterpret me because e-mail, in 21st century America has largely replaced face to face conversation.
I have finally gotten smart about things; it took me 49 years to get smart. Finally this year, I think it was for the very first time, I sent out an e-mail, and I said to my wife, do you want to look at this to see how it comes across. I mean, I’ve been firing off e-mails for years without even consulting my wife. But just read this and tell me how it reads; this just happened the other week. And she says you know, what you said you come across as angry. Now at first glance I said well, I really wasn’t angry, I just sent a matter of fact e-mail, when I write I’m like an attorney (because I am one, a recovering one to some extent) but I like to have points and facts and move in a logical manner, I just like to get to the bottom line without a lot of fluff. And my wife says this is angry.
So I said well, what should I do about it. She said well, let me take care of it. So she went in there, kept the content of what I was saying, but rearranged a few words and phrases and the e-mail went forth and there was no week long emotional explosion that I’m used to. The fact of the matter is the more we talk the more we provide rope to hang ourselves. I’ll tell you a New Year’s resolution for me, it’s fewer e-mails, perhaps shorter e-mails, and most importantly, submitting it to my wife to see what she thinks.
We’re so vulnerable to caustic speech in this electronic age in which we live, and yet, what did our mothers tell us: loose lips sink ships. Loose lips sink ships, and in this electronic age that we find ourselves that is more of an injunction than anything else. What does James 1:19 say? Everyone should be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen. [James 1:19, “this you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”] I find I’m the exact opposite, I’m the first to speak, I’m the first to get angry and I’m the last to listen. There must be something in my nature that contradicts the Bible for the Bible to have to educate morally on this issue. What did our moms say? God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.
Why avoid this empty and worldly chatter? Because is leads to further ungodliness is what he is saying. And then he gives three illustrations. Now I won’t be able to get through all of these illustrations today but I want to leave you just with one. It’s in the first part of verse 16; he’s moving from his point about empty worldly chatter leading to greater ungodliness and now he illustrates it with three illustrations. We’ll just look at one this morning, there in verse 17a.
Illustration number 1, “and their talk will spread like gangrene.” Notice the Greek word hōs, which is translated “like,” when you have a comparison with the expression “like” or “as” we know that as a simile, he is saying this is like that. What is this uncontrolled speech like? It’s like, and actually the Greek reads this way, “it’s like gangrene.” Now once again I looked up this Greek word, “gangrene” in the lexicon and here is the definition: a disease involving severe inflammation and possibly cancerous, which involves the spread of ulcers which eats away the flesh and the bone so that what was once healthy is now unhealthy.
What is this uncontrolled speck like? It’s like gangrene which starts off very small and then it can quickly spread, and then it can eat away at the flesh and bones in one’s body that are actually healthy, bringing a lack of health to someone who was once healthy. That’s what uncontrolled speech is like. It’s like gangrene.
Now if you are a reader of the King James Bible or the New King James Version I like the way it’s translated there in 2 Timothy 2:17. It says, “their message will spread like cancer.” Now we understand that. We live in Houston where we’re blessed with one of the greatest cancer treatment centers right on our doorstep. We have people coming in and out of this church constantly that have been victimized by cancer. In fact, we have an excellent tract written by Deborah Fetter on the tract rack when she was struggling with cancer, explaining a biblical frame of mind as you go through that cancer. I would recommend you read that if you’re struggling with cancer. Or get a copy of it on the tract rack and hand it out to people that are struggling with cancer. It’s a very well-done tract.
We understand this whole concept of cancer very well; we understand how it starts off small and if it is not controlled through various medical treatments it quickly spreads to other parts of one’s body. In fact, the worst news you can have from a doctor is your cancer has metastasized. Metastasized itself comes from the Greek word meta, which means change, in other words, it’s changed from one part of your body to another. Why is that? Because that’s the nature of cancer, it spreads.
That is the nature of uncontrolled speech. A word can be spoken that is clumsy; a word can be spoken that is careless and before you know it the house is on fire. Before you know it, friends that were once friends have been alienated from each other; families are divided, bitterness grows, and God forbid it can even come into the church and the church splits.
You know, it’s interesting when you study church splits; we think church splits happen because of some great theological principle that people are standing on. The fact of the matter is that’s usually an excuse. The reason for most church is because of pettiness in people; I’m mad at so and so, I’m jealous of so and so, I don’t like so and so, so and so hurt my feelings, careless word, careless word, careless word, and before you know it God’s church is divided. It happens every day, all of the time. Why? Because it’s like cancer or gangrene that spreads.
It’s interesting here that when you look at verse 17 in Greek, verse 17, “their talk will spread like gangrene,” the word “talk” there is logos, which is a singular noun. It’s translated “talk” but it’s better translated a “word.” From one careless, misplaced word, a single one, you can have it spreading throughout the body just like cancer, just like gangrene. What starts off small becomes large.
We’ve got to go back to James 3 just for a minute. James 3:5, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest fire is set aflame by such a small fire.” What’s James’ point? The tongue is a very small part of one’s anatomy or body, yet the tongue itself wields disproportionate influence relative to its size. The tongue is small and yet it dictates whether a church splits or not. The tongue is small and yet it dictates whether you’re alienated from your spouse or not. The tongue is small and yet it dictates whether you’re alienated from your children or not. The tongue is small and yet it dictates what happens to you on the job, what happens to you in your career.
And it just doesn’t seem fair that such a small part of my body can wield such disproportionate results. And James says that’s the point, that’s why it has to be controlled; that’s why it has to be subjugated, that’s why it has to be one of those instruments of your body that you constantly yield to God and His purposes. Without reading all the verses, other examples James uses to get this point across is the tongue is just like a rudder on a ship, think how small that rudder is and yet that rudder dictates the direction of the ship. [James 3:4, “Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.”]
James also says it’s just like a bit in a horse’s mouth; think how small that bit is in the horse’s mouth and yet it influences the direction of an entire animal. [James 3:3, “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.”
That’s the tongue. One of the things I hope God never does to me, or you, is somehow gives us a vision or a dream of all of the relationships that have been fragmented, all of the families that have been fragmented, all of the churches that have been fragmented, all of the countries that have been fragmented because of uncontrolled speech. Wouldn’t that be horrible to see all of that? And yet sometimes I think that only seeing something like that, of that magnitude, helps us understand the potency and the power of the tongue, this two by two slab of mucous membrane in which are the very power of life and death.
“But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,  and their talk will spread like gangrene.” This is just too convicting, I’m going to have to stop right here.
But is it not interesting that what controls speech is the nature and maybe you’re here today and you’ve never received the new nature. The reason you’ve never received the new nature is because you’ve never been born spiritually. And the reason you’ve never been born spiritually is you’ve never trusted in the message of Christ, which is the gospel. The gospel is simply this: Jesus did it all in our place; He bodily rose from the dead to vindicate who He is and by simply believing or trusting in His words for the safekeeping of our soul we are made right with Him, and we become children of God. That’s the gospel.
The gospel and becoming a Christian is something you can do right now as I am speaking, in the quietness of your own mind and heart. As the Spirit of God places you under conviction respond to the truth of the gospel, believe as you perhaps know how to, only the message, trust in it, you don’t have to raise a hand to do it, walk an aisle to do it, join a church to do it, it’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord. If it’s something you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk. And for those of us that know Christ personally I think we have before us today the ultimate New Year’s resolution: Lord, set a guard over my tongue, help me to use this great instrument of potentiality in the year 2016 for Your glory and honor. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for Your truth, we’re grateful for Your Word, we’re grateful for how it speaks to us in the 21st century. I do pray, Lord, that You will help us to walk out these principles, not only this week but also this year. Make this year significant or different because we tried to make a change under your power by controlling our speech. We’ll be careful to give you all of the praise and the glory. We lift these things up to you in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen.