Watch That Tongue!
Reading: Jeremiah 21-24, James 1
To those of us, perhaps that means all of us, who handle God’s Word in one context or another, Jeremiah has a lot to say. And most of it creates one of those you-better-sit-up-and pay-attention moments.
Paul advised his protégé, Timothy, to handle the Word of God well (2 Timothy 2:15). But it’s not simply what we do when we are presenting the Word that is important, it is making sure that what we are presently in the name of the Word of God actually is HIS Word. We can speak in God’s Name without having been authorized to do so. We can tell people that what we say is from God without that message actually having come from God. The consequences of doing these things is a whole lot on the scary side.
Here’s what Jeremiah says:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, The Lord says; You will have peace. And to all those who follow the stubbornness of their own hearts they say, No harm will come to you. But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?” (Jeremiah 23:16-18, NIV).
The issue here is overlooking sin. One who is a forthteller of God’s message can’t gloss over sin. His, or her, job is to lead others into the path of righteousness. Sometimes we think that if we say nothing at all then it isn’t as bad as saying that everything is okay when it isn’t. Ezekiel 3, among others, delivers a stern warning to those who are supposed to be “watchmen” over the souls of God’s people, and don’t deliver the message. If we have any doubts about what our message is supposed to be, Jeremiah’s question begs yet another question: “Have I been spending enough time listening to God’s voice through His Word so that I know what He wants me to say?”
Jeremiah goes on.
“’I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds...Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord. ‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” (Jeremiah 23:21, 22, 28, 29, NIV).
The Lord expects those who speak in His Name to be true to Him and to His Word, to speak God’s message, not whatever they think is convenient for people to hear. And it appears that the Word of God doesn’t always serve to soothe us, but often gives us the “good swift kick” that we need to stay on the rails spiritually.
Then comes this addition: “’Therefore,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, The Lord declares…They…lead my people astray with their reckless lies. They do not benefit these people in the least,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:30-32, NIV).
I don’t want God to be “against” me because I have said something in His Name that didn’t come from Him. It doesn’t sound like the confrontation that would come as a result between me and the Lord would be a pleasant experience.
Like Timothy, we need to learn to handle the Word of God correctly, to sit in His council, to be faithful to His Word and listen to His Spirit. We need to avoid giving people what they want when we should be giving them what they need—sometimes those two things are polar opposites!
James 3 warns us that not many should desire to teach the Word of God because they will be held accountable for the words that they speak. “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1, NIV). We often apply the verses that follow, and rightly so, to things like gossip, bad language, and bad mouthing others. But first and foremost is the warning that those who deliver a message in the Name of the Lord has better be sure that the message IS the Lord’s before they deliver it.