Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fitting Speech


"The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse." Proverbs 10:32.

Children can sense when decency has been violated. I was driving Wes and Jenny home from school when Wes asked me what a certain phrase meant. He was eight years old and had never heard that term before at home. I asked, "Where did you hear that?" "On the playground," he answered. "I’m glad you asked me what the phrase meant before you started using it. It’s not very nice, and I’ll have to explain it to you later when your five-year old sister isn’t around. She doesn’t need to hear about that yet."

Jenny had been sitting in the middle of the pickup seat during this conversation. Her eyes were big with curiosity and her head swivelled back and forth between Wes and me as we talked. When she heard that she would be denied the explanation until she was a bit older, she covered her ears with her hands and said, "Go ahead and tell him Dad, I can’t hear anything." "You can’t?" I asked her. "No, I can’t," she replied. I waited until later.

Children may not know what a vulgar term means, but they can sense if it has the ring of impropriety about it if they have never heard it spoken before in the home, church or other social gatherings of family and friends. They sense that an order has been violated and they are curious, even uncomfortable, about what it might mean.

This order or appropriateness is what Proverbs 10:32 is about. People who are righteous or wise in matters of godliness and propriety speak words that are fitting and pleasant; people who are not wise or righteous speak words that violate sensibilities and offend. The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse

It seems strange to speak of lips as having knowledge, doesn’t it? "The lips of the righteous know what is fitting." Can lips know anything? This is an example of a common figure of speech in Proverbs known as metonymy, where one object is used in place of another object it is related to. Here, lips are used in the place of a heart that is attuned to God and his will. Such a heart is filled with a sense of God, his moral teaching, and his high regard for other people. The lips of this person express the substance of a heart filled with godly wisdom and righteousness, uttering words that are fitting and pleasant.

The lips or mouth of the wicked, however, speak what is perverse. Perverse means to "turn upside down" (Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs, p.76). It implies that proper order has been completely disrupted and upended. Instead of an atmosphere of appropriate speech characterized by intelligent discussion, respectful tones and encouragement for one another, perverse conversation is distasteful, even ungodly. The effect of such speech is to "confound the moral judgment of others, and to overthrow God’s rule" (Waltke, Proverbs. 1:480).

Do Christians take the subject of appropriate speech seriously enough? Are we occasionally lured into conversation or humor muddied by base innuendo or course language? Do we engage in negative, slanderous putdowns of other people? We may regard such offenses as inconsequential, but Proverbs 10:32 challenges our casual disdain. The mouth of the wicked (speak) only what is perverse. Another proverb threatens that such a tongue shall be "cut out" (Prov. 10:31) by God himself. Such a warning constrains us to examine our hearts and temper our tongues.

To be perverse means to turn God’s order upside down. It means to reverse the intention God had for the heart, purity and innocence, and fill it with filth and degradation. It means that when a heart that is impure speaks, wickedness flows forth. That wickedness may be gossip, slander, lies, course jokes, crude expressions or threats of violence. All of these manifestations of perverseness give evidence of a heart in need of cleansing. Even small children with tender hearts sense this. If only Christian adults had such spiritual orientation!

Our words reveal the substance of our heart. The lips of the righteous know what is fitting because they speak from a heart influenced and shaped by the Creator.

Warren Baldwin

Friday, October 2, 2009



Story of guy who has hard luck (in file). Can you blame this guy for being "down in the dumps?"

Feeling down in the dumps generally means we
1) Have had a bad turn of events. Even a string of them.
2) We have internalized those bad events and we feel bad inside.
3) We make ourselves the center of everything. Focus on ‘self.’
4) We engage in self-pity. This can lead to feeling mildly depressed if it lingers.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

These same feelings can happen if we feel "up in the dumps." Ok, I coined that term. I am referring to when things go tremendously well for us. Ironically people can have the same negative emotions as when everything goes bad! Maybe they fear the good things will end and worry about something bad happening. If they have a negative disposition they can’t feel good even when things are fine!

Elijah might relate to this. This great prophet faced 450 prophets of Baal and beat them. He purged Israel of the leadership of an immoral cult. Any preacher would have been pleased! But with success, even good and spiritual success, comes attacks. Elijah’s attack came from the queen who threatened to kill him.

Elijah was afraid of Jezebel’s revenge and he fled. 1 Kings 19:3. Eventually, Elijah found his way to a cave and tried to hide. 1 Kings 19 gives some insight into Elijah’s emotions.

Woe is Me

1) Elijah cried out, "I have had enough." 1 Kings 19:4
Enough of what? Perhaps having to deal with a wicked king and his wife. Maybe having to deal with the false teachers and false religion of Baal. He may have been tired of dealing with his own countrymen for turning from God to paganism. I think he was just tired of ministry.

"I can’t take anymore!" We all have a threshold of pain that we can tolerate. We can only take so much criticism, annoyance and disappointment. Eventually we will burst. Elijah was at that point.

If you are ready to cry out, "I can’t take anymore!" remember two things. 1) Yes you can. Most of us can take at least a little more. If nothing else, we can often decide to calm down and get away for a bit. That’s actually the second point. 2) Take a break. Step back. Rest. Most of us quit to soon: our marriages, our friendships, our jobs. Take a break, yes, but hold on and hang in there! Aren’t we glad Jesus didn’t cry out, "I’ve had enough!" Someone else may be hanging on our faithfulness.

2) Next Elijah cried, "Take my life!" (19:4)
Does he really believe his life is not worth living? He has just experienced a great spiritual victory, and now he is giving up?

Several things may be coming to bear on Elijah. He has been under a lot of stress. His spiritual reserves have been tested to the threshold. Just think about it! How many of us like having one person oppose us? Elijah has had the king, the king’s wife, and 850 false prophets opposing him. 450 of those prophets he faced in one encounter. He challenged them to a test and Elijah won, because God was with him. Then the queen threatened his death. He fled into the desert. He was tired, hungry and thirsty. In this weary, defeated stated, he fell asleep.

Have you ever been so stressed you despaired of life? So tired you didn’t want to go on? So scared you were afraid of what another day would bring? Then you know Elijah felt. "Take my life!"

Elijah’s spirit at this point was "Woe is me." But that revealed something in Elijah that we all have: a flaw. Elijah’s flaw was "Look at me."

Look at Me

God didn’t leave Elijah alone. He sent an angel to minister to him. The angel didn’t challenge Elijah or reprimand him in any way. The angel came to minister to him, even offering him food and water. Then God came to Elijah and simply asked, "What are you doing here?" (V.9). There was no challenge or reprimand. But Elijah felt compelled to offer a defense of his actions. He was saying, "Look at me! Look at all I have done!"

1) Elijah said "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty." (19:10)
The truth is, he had been very zealous. He was preaching, confronting the king, taking on 450 false prophets. Elijah was very busy! And he felt very alone.

2) Next Elijah complained, "I am the only one left." (19:10)
When we are down in life, all we can see is our work, our good intentions, our contributions, our sacrifices. We don’t see what other people are doing and appreciate their good work. Everything is about us.

Elijah just knew he was the only faithful one left. I’m not sure if he meant he was the only faithful prophet, or the only faithful Israelite, but he was certain he stood all alone. But he was wrong. In chapter 18 of 1 Kings Elijah talked with Obadiah, another faithful prophet, who was hiding 100 faithful prophets in caves. Now, in his fear, exhaustion and self-obsession, Elijah has forgotten Obadiah and the 100.

Woe is me and Look at me. Two attitudes that are self-defeating. They do not promote faithfulness or healthy community. They are attitudes of self-pity and self-concern. And they derail us.

But God wouldn’t let Elijah remain in this state. One thing I love about this story is that God uses a flawed man to do his work. I like this story because it shows that God can use even me. God can use all of us! Are we imperfect? Flawed? Do we sometimes feel sorry for ourselves? Feel like we are alone? Feel like no one cares? Wonder how long we can go on?

Good news! That’s ok! That doesn’t mean God has given up on you. There can still be a lot of wear on your tires and steam in your engine. You just need to reconnect to God and your brothers and sisters. You need to get back into the thick of things. Get involved. That is what God did with Elijah. He said, "Hold on, Buddy," and sent him back into battle.

Hold on, Buddy

God did several things to revitalize Elijah.

1) He made him take care of himself. He fed him and let him sleep.

2) God talked with him. "What are you doing here?" (19:9) God asked. It was a question. God didn’t start out pushing Elijah. He conversed with him.

Elijah then went into his "Woe is me" mode again. "O Lord, it’s hard down here! I’ve done what’s right. I’ve been zealous for you. Plus, I’m the only faithful one you’ve got! But I’m tired!" Part of what he said was right; part was wrong. But God let him talk.

When you are down, down, down, are you tempted to withdraw from God and people? God calls us out of ourselves and says, "Talk to me. Pray."

3) God made his presence known. In this story, he made himself known in a whisper (19:12,13).
In our lives, he may makes himself known through assurance in prayer, through the counsel of a friend, through a scripture.

4 God gave Elijah an assignment. He put him to work. Elijah was to go anoint a couple of future kings (19:15-16).
When you are down, do something!

5) Finally, God said, "Remember, you are not alone. I have seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (19:18).

What has this got to do with us?

Elijah placed himself at the center of the universe and at the center of God’s work. His attitude was "I am." Sorry, but "I am" is God’s role. God is always at the center.

Because of his self-absorbed attitude Elijah was unable to process disappointment and fear. He viewed everything from his perspective and not God’s. His question was not, "Is God doing good work here," but "Am I doing good work here?"

Elijah’s negative spirit, his depression, grew out of his self-centeredness. And here is the good news - God still worked with Elijah.

Listen, if God waited for perfect people to do his work, nothing would get done! God works with the down and out!
- with a self-absorbed and depressed prophet in 1 Kings
- with a five-time divorcee in John 4
- with a persecutor of the church in Acts
- with immature and unspiritual apostles in the gospels.
God puts his treasure in clay jars, easily broken pots. And we are those pots.

I’m thankful that ministry is for failures. Ministry is for people who look in the mirror and say, "I don’t have much to offer. Thank goodness God can use me as I am."

Today God asks us the question he asked of Elijah, "What are you doing here?"

What are we going to say?

Warren Baldwin Oct. 4, 2009