Lesson 32: The Power of Spiritual Gifts
Many years ago a man by the name of James Carpenterson wrote these words:
If anyone can control his tongue, it proves that he has perfect control his tongue it proves that he has perfect control over himself in every other way. . . . And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness, and poisons every part of the body. And the tongue is set on fire by hell itself, and can turn out whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.”
Perhaps you recognize these words. They are so important that God recorded them in the scripture! (This James was the brother of the Lord Jesus and they were both carpenter’s sons.) But this is only one of a dozen places where the scripture warns about the careful use of the tongue. In this last third of the 4th chapter of Ephesians Paul is talking about the way the Christian life should be lived. And as we have begun looking at that section we have referred to it as “true conversion.” The word “conversion in the scripture is described in several ways. But it seems to me that the clearest illustration is the one that Paul uses in in Ephesians chapter four. It is the illustration of taking off an old set of clothes and putting on a new set. That old set of clothes pictures all that we are in our old sinful life, with all of its failings and foibles and sinfulness. The new set of clothes, on the other hand pictures all that individual is when he has come to Christ and accepted Him as Savior. Now according to the Word of God, at that moment in time when a person individually receives Christ that old set of clothes is put away and the new clothes are put on.
But the interesting thing about Ephesians chapter 4 is that Paul is making this exhortation to people who are already believers in Christ. And so, Paul is simply asking these believers to be in their practice and lifestyle what they really are in the sight of God. This is what some Bible teachers call “true conversion.” And so in chapter 4 verses 14 through 17 he gives specific examples of the ways in which we should treat other believers. And then in chapter 5 he is going to give examples of how we as believers should treat people who are not believers.
And the first area of relationships with both believers and unbelievers alike is one that as we read earlier is the key to everything else. James, you may remember said that if a person can control his tongue it proves that he has perfect control over himself in every other way.
Perhaps that is why Paul begins with that particular part of life: the use of the tongue. And Paul looks at the use of the tongue from two different standpoints: In verse 25 he deals with truthfulness. And then in verses 29 and 30 he is going to talk about using our tongue for tenderness. Lets look first at verse 25:
Therefore putting away lying, let each of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Instead of the lying that was a way of life with many of us there is to be truthfulness.
It is interesting to notice that the very first sin recorded in the New Testament church was the sin of lying. In Acts chapter 5 a man named Ananias lied about a business transaction. He lied to the Apostles, he even lied to the Holy Spirit! And probably because it was the first instance of it, Ananias dropped dead on the spot. A little while later Ananias ‘wife, Saphira, came on the scene and told exactly the same lie in exactly the same way, and she died in exactly the same way. But now one of the hallmarks of the Christian is that he or she is a truthful person. And verse 25 gives the reason for truthfulness: “for we are members one of another.”
In the earliest days of missionary activity in the Belgian Congo, those first missionaries developed a great deal of respect among the local authorities. And that respect carried over to those who had became believers as well. And their reputation became so widespread that those authorities even coined a phrase. In English the term was “a real Christian.” One day a man who was known to be a Christian was arrested and charged with harboring an escaped convict. When the case came to trial the judge asked the accused, “Did you in fact harbor this convict?” And the accused said, “No sir, I did not.” And the judge did something that was astounding. He turned to the accusers and said, “You, then, are the liars! Because this man is a “real Christian” and he would not tell a lie.” Now that is true conversion. Truthfulness to the point that people would not believe it if they heard that you had told a lie.
Now, if you will skip down to verse 29, Paul has more to say about the tongue. And it is not surprising that he speaks about the tongue again; it has often been said that Christianity is a way of living, but it is also a way of speaking. So in these verses he is going to show us that the godly use of the tongue goes beyond just telling the truth, important as that is, it is possible to be completely truthful in everything we say and still not be doing all that god wants us to in this area. Look at verse 20:
Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Notice that word “corrupt.” It is a word that means “rotten.” In fact it was used by the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 13 to describe “rotten fish.” So in reading this verse literally we are saying “let no rotten communication come out of your mouth.” That is the characteristic of the “old man.” Many of these Christians in Ephesus were new believers. And they had come from a whole environment of “rotten” communication.
Remember that Ephesus was a very corrupt, wicked, we might even say “debauched” city. It was the center of a very sensual worship of the goddess Dianna. The temple of Dianna was there and it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was such an evil place that even the religious festivals and social events in the city were filled with that wicked sensuous, suggestive talk. And perhaps Paul had to draw attention to it because some of it had carried over into the life and talk of the Christians. So Paul is saying, “don’t even talk like you did when you were unsaved.” The problem with something that is rotten, you know, is that corrupts the things around it. Everything that rotten thing touches soon becomes corrupt too. And that is just as true of our speech as it is of anything else.
But notice what more he says in this verse:
Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth . . . but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Now this word comparison helps us see what “rotten communication” really is. It is not just swearing or telling dirty jokes, it is anything that is not edifying. As we have seen several times in our study of Ephesians that word “edifying” means “to build up.” But it speaks not just of physical building, but of emotional building as well. It seems to me that a great deal of our conversation, even among Christians, is negative, it is not positive. So much of it is about what someone is doing wrong, or a poor decision that someone has made. A lot of it is critical of others; about what is wrong with this organization of that activity. Is that kind of talk, that kind of attitude helpful, is it edifying? It is basically wasted. In fact, it really does a lot of damage. But God wants us to talk about things that “edify,” things that are constructive, things that build ourselves and those around us up.
Someone has coined he phrase “a tender tongue.” A kind of talk that is soothing, that is helpful, that is positive. I think that my maternal grandmother was one of the best examples of what a Christian’s talk ought to be. One of my early childhood memories is of being in a group of adults who were criticizing some poor soul. It seemed like everybody in the room had something negative to say about him. They just took turns pointing out his faults. And they all pretty much agreed on how bad he was. Finally my grandmother said, “But you know, I believe he can whistle better than anybody I ever heard!” And it turned the whole atmosphere in the room completely around!
And that is what Paul is calling “an edifying tongue.” There are many things that may be true, but they don’t need to be said except in a very specific context.
The tongue of the “new man,” then, is a tongue that is used to encourage, to build up, to soothe those around us. Have you ever been around a person like that? Isn’t it refreshing? But Paul gives us the real motivation for this kind of talk in verse 30: Not only does it do a lot of good to build up others, but there is an even deeper spiritual motivation. Look at verse 30
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Have you ever stopped to think about the context of this well known verse? We know that there are many things that grieve the Holy Spirit, but it is very interesting to me that the specific thing that is mentioned in this regard is a corrupt tongue; a tongue that does not edify others. But there is something else that is very important to notice here by way of application. It is an interesting thing that Paul does not say that the Holy Spirit will be grieved away. We have seen in earlier studies that when a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ he is “sealed” until the day of redemption. And the believer is eternally secure because of that sealing work of the Holy Spirit.
When the father of philosopher Emmanuel Kant was an old man he made a long and dangerous journey through the forest back to his native country. On the way he was overtaken by a gang of robbers who demanded all of his valuables. Finally they let him go after demanding “have you given us everything?” And he answered “Yes.” When he was safely out of their sight his hand brushed against something in the hem of his coat. It was a lump of gold which he had sown there for safekeeping and had completely forgotten about in the fear and confusion of the robbery.
At once he hurried back to find the robbers, and said meekly, “I have told you something that is not true. It was unintentional, I was too terrified to think. Here, take the gold in my pocket.” But to his astonishment not one of the robbers would take the gold. In fact, in a moment one of them went and brought back his bag, another one brought his prayer book, and another one brought him his horse and helped him mount it. Then they asked him to pray for them as he continued his journey.
Now not all robberies turn out that way, the story does demonstrate the amazing power of a truthful life. Let me ask you something: how truthful are you? And how helpful is you speech?
St. Francis of Assissi, a great Christian of the early church, said, “Preach the gospel with every means at your disposal. If necessary, use words.”
Our Father we confess to you today that our tongues are flames of fire; full of wickedness, able to set on fire the whole body. Some of us are not truthful in our dealings with others, some of us say things that are deliberately designed to hurt or embarrass others. Some of us hold back things that should be said. And we know that this grieves the Holy Spirit. We know that if we are ever going to have the impact that you want us to have on the sinful world around us that that has to change. Convict us, Father, wherein we have failed. Give us the strength and the grace to be truthful people; to be tender people – for your sake and the sake of your body. In Jesus name we pray, Amen