Satan uses all manner of devices to draw us into sin and disbelief. Some of his tactics are as follows:
- Troubles and sorrows to rob us of our joy.
- Illness and trials to bring us to the point where we doubt God's goodness or even His presence.
- False ideas and doctrines to capture our attention.
- And, of course, the lure of immorality or worldly treasure to seduce us into serving him rather than serving the Lord.
These and other allurements are mighty entrapments that make many fall, but all of these together don't wreak as much damage to our souls and to the church as the devil's deadliest of weapons - WORDS!
We have all heard the phrase, "The pen is mightier than the sword" (Edward Bulwer-Lytton - 1839) suggesting that words (ideas) have more power than weapons or armies. There are other familiar words that have moved entire nations for good or evil such as those of John F. Kennedy's famous call to service when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country," or words like, "Heil Hitler" that remind us of how soulless mankind can be.
I mention these to point out that when it comes to attacking, distracting, and dividing the disciples of Jesus Christ, Satan's deadliest tools are words. In this Mini Book, therefore, I'd like to focus on those situations where words build or destroy the Lord's church.
Satan's Tool: Words That Destroy
In the church, the determining factor that separates a growing church from a divided one; a happy congregation from a war zone; a loving Christian family from a closed and cold one; are usually the words that we speak. Words that we either speak...
- To ourselves.
- To one another.
- About one another.
- To the outside community.
The words we use can build or destroy. We choose, and many times Satan urges us, to say what is not true, what is ugly, hurtful, mean, or proud. The Bible has many examples of such destructive words. For example:
A. When Job was struck down with many afflictions and needed a word of faith, a word of hope or love, Satan moved his wife to deliver a deadly blow. She answered his pain with the words, "Why don't you curse God and die?" (Job 2:9). This woman didn't completely destroy his faith, but her words plunged him into a silent depression and suffering that only added to his misery.
B. When Moses sent spies into the Promised Land (Numbers 13) to prepare for the entry of the Jews into their new homes, not all were positive. Of the twelve who went in to survey the land, ten came back with a report filled with fear and doubt about the possible success of their mission. Despite the appeal of the other two spies (Caleb and Joshua), the people were swayed by the negative report of the cowardly agents. They used mere words to convince the people not to go forward as God had commanded them, and because of these words the Israelites were punished by God to wandering the desert for forty long years. Their words cost the nation an entire generation that would ultimately die in the desert and never see the Promised Land.
C. Another example of destructive words appears in the episode where Jesus is gathered with the Apostles and a woman came to anoint Him with expensive perfume. In both Matthew 26 and John 12, the writers quote Judas saying that this was a waste of money that could have been used differently. The two writers note that Judas was speaking out of greed, not concern for the poor. Matthew, however, describes the reaction of the other disciples at Judas' words. He says that they were indignant; they were upset; they were stirred up. His evil comment, born of greed and selfishness, worked to destroy the unity and spirituality of the entire group.
James, a leader of the early church in Jerusalem, tells us that words are like fire. A small spark can consume and destroy great tracts of land (James 3:4). In the same way, a few wrong words planted at the right place and time can destroy our lives and the lives of so many others.
Words That Build
Of course, the opposite of this is true as well, the right words spoken at the right time and place can be life savers. Solomon expresses this idea in Proverbs:
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.
- Proverbs 25:11
David, the second king of Israel, turned the tide of battle against the Philistines and their champion, Goliath, when he said the following to his giant enemy:
Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord's and He will give you into our hands."
- I Samuel 17:45-47
Another Jewish leader, Nehemiah, empowered the people when he went before them and said,
Then I said to them, "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach."
- Nehemiah 2:17
The man we call "doubting" Thomas was, in fact, the Apostle who provided motivation for his fellow disciples. When their lives were threatened and Jesus' enemies were closing in, he encouraged the others to continue following the Lord, even into a dangerous situation.
Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, so that we may die with Him."
- John 11:16
And then, of course, there are the many words of Jesus Himself, so encouraging, so loving, and so life affirming. A good example of which is what He said to a woman who had been caught in adultery and brought forth publicly to shame her and lay a trap for Jesus.
Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."
- John 8:10-11
So many words are spoken, but only certain words uttered at an opportune moment can build up, can infuse hope into a tired soul, and can strengthen one's resolve to carry on, aim higher, or do one's best.
If we let him, Satan will always provoke us to use words that destroy, words that only build ourselves up, and unfortunately, words that dishonor Christ in some way.
As far as the church is concerned, its future success is not based on:
- The number of visitors that attend.
- How much money is put in the collection plate.
- What kind of programs or preachers the church has.
These are all necessary in building up the church, but the most important factors affecting the successful development of an individual Christian or congregation are the words chosen and the way these words are spoken by each member of the congregation. With this in mind, here are three reminders that can guide all of us in our selection and use of words:
Reminder #1: You Always Have a Choice
Unless you are seriously handicapped or "challenged", you have control over the words you speak. In the end, you are the one who chooses to build or destroy, support or let fall, tell the truth or lie. You, and no one else, control this.
In many instances words make the difference between:
- Success or failure.
- Peace or division.
- Acceptance or rejection.
By your words you contribute to what you, or the congregation you are a part of, become. Be aware of this and choose carefully what you say in every situation. Do not let Satan choose your words for you. An effective way to filter your speech is to ask yourself, "Who is speaking here, Christ or Satan?"
Reminder #2: You Will Be Judged by Your Words
Jesus was very clear on this point. He said in Matthew:
But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
- Matthew 12:36-37
Since words are so powerful, God holds us accountable for every one that we speak. What your mother taught you, or should have taught you, is very true and very Biblical. "If you don't have something good to say (about people, about the church, about the program, about whatever) don't say anything!"
We are allowed to feel badly or have a negative opinion about someone or something, but unless we have first talked to God or are talking to the right person in order to resolve things, we risk our own condemnation by speaking out. I have a rule of thumb that helps remind me when I am becoming too critical: Share the good; Pray about the bad.
If we want to grow personally in Christ, avoid condemnation, and build up the church we would be wise to first judge ourselves and our speech before sharing it with others. This is especially true today when sharing our thoughts and opinions on the internet where the damage can be greatly multiplied.
Reminder #3: Strive to Fill the World with His Words, Not Yours
If the whole world would be quiet for ten minutes and listen only to Jesus' words, this world would be a better place. As it is, we have to compete with so many other "words" in order to get the message of the gospel out.
- There are the words of Satan, spread through lies and alluring offers of pleasure and power.
- There are the words of this world, eager to keep us occupied with the riches and cares of earthly pursuits.
- And then there are the words of life, spoken by Jesus and recorded by His Apostles in the Bible.
We have to decide which words we will choose to fill our hearts and minds with. We must also select the kind of words that will be spoken in our homes and the ones we will proclaim to the world.
People have a finite capacity to take in information. There are just so many hours in one day and so many words a person can receive in a lifetime. The task that Jesus has given us as Christians is to make sure that everybody in the world hears His Word (the Gospel message) at least once. Because of television, radio, print, and now the internet, we have the technology to carry out Jesus' command in Matthew 28 and Mark 16 (preach the gospel to all nations) to the entire world in our generation.
His Word is in our hearts and on our lips, and He has provided the means to deliver it through modern communication technology. All that is left is to find those who in this generation are ready to say, "Here I am Lord, send me to turn the world upside down for Christ" (Acts 17:6).
Oh! What God would do with those who would go "all out" to fill the world with the words of Christ instead of the words of Satan. As it is, we continue to squabble with words that hinder the church and hurt one another, and fill our minds with the prattle of fools who deny Christ for the love of this world.
Some of you may be wondering, "What is he asking us to do? What does he want to achieve with this lesson?"
1. I want us to watch our tongues. Most of the problems in the church stem from loose tongues. Bring your negatives to God in prayer, save your positives for your brethren, and work out your problems with each other face to face.
2. I want us to use our tongues to fill the world with the words of Christ. We can begin by filling our own minds and hearts with them by reading His Word regularly. We can continue this process by using every means we have to get the gospel out to everyone.
3. I want us to obey the words of Jesus as soon as we can, whatever they are. I want to see a zeal, a hunger, and even an impatience to obey His words. For example:
- If He says repent and be baptized, I want to see a rush to be immersed.
- If He says don't do that, I want to see people stopping as quickly as they can.
- If He says serve, I want to see people competing with each other to do His work.
- If He says go or come, I want to see people saying where and when so they can prepare.
I want to see a glorious church of Christ, a light on a hill, a beautiful bride, and a strong spiritual body that is able and eager to do His will.
If there is a step to take, a decision to make, a resolution to establish, a sin to leave behind or a Savior to come to, I hope you will not hesitate to make your move before Satan finds the "words" to talk you out of doing what Christ calls you to do.