Life Theology

Your Words Have the Power of Life and Death

Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. (Romans 3:10)

Think about the way you talked today. How did you use your words? Were they used to build up or tear down? To give life or kill?

Paul writes that sinners (namely, everyone) use the tongue to hurt people. The tongue itself is not a moral object. It may be used for truth-speaking, encouraging, and gospel preaching. But it also may be used to deceive, slander, and discourage.  Paul describes people’s lips as having “the venom of asps.”  An asp is a venomous snake that lived in the Nile region during Paul’s day.  In modern day, it is native to southwestern Europe.  In antiquity, when a criminal was not thought to deserve a respectable execution, he would be injected with the asp’s venom, which is particularly potent.

Think about that for a second: our words can be used like snake venom in an execution.

Gossip. Slander. Biting sarcasm. Wrath. Clamor.

Friends. Neighbors. Parents. Siblings. Spouses. Co-workers. Strangers.

Whoever said, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,” obviously never had an interpersonal relationship with anyone.  Words do hurt and, according to Paul, they can kill.  The venom of an asp will eventually kill someone physically and put them out of their misery.  Words, on the other hand, are remembered in the heart and mind, and are carried emotionally and spiritually until death.  Words can kill slowly and softly.  Over and over and over again.

Paul Tripp has said, “You have never spoken a neutral word in your life.”  We must ask ourselves: Do our words bring life or bring death?  Do our words bring the infusion of gospel comfort, peace, encouragement, love, unity, and truth, or do they bring the hellish venom of hurt, discord, discouragement, bitterness, division, and falsehood?


Now for the couple that has it all…

My good friend Vern sent me an article from the Omaha World Herald that ran yesterday morning.  The article is about divorce insurance that’s going up for sale in Dayton, Ohio. Here’s a depressing snippet:

WedLock policyholders buy units of coverage. Each unit costs $15.99 per month and provides a cash payoff of $1,250 if the policyholder divorces. A spouse who, for example, buys 10 units stands to collect $12,500 in the event of a divorce.

The policy does not mature for four years.

After four years, the units increase in value by $250 per year.

Could there be a bigger abomination to God’s glorious design for marriage?  Thankfully, not everyone in Dayton is going for the madness. The article reports: “Greg Schutte, director of Dayton-based Marriage Works Ohio, said couples would be better off using the money on things that would strengthen their relationship, such as couples counseling or regular dates.”

God’s original design for marriage is covenant love. This means that, literally, people stay with each other until death parts them. (Make sure to read this caveat: There are circumstances that do allow for divorce — like sexual immorality of any kind and physical abuse, yet reconciliation should be the first option, and divorce should be the last option.)

Divorce is a kind of death — that’s why people are selling insurance for it.  But it is a man-made death and not one that God approves of. Jesus said, “So [husband and wife] are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6).

Imagine planning for the biggest day of your life on any Saturday afternoon. You have a busy day planned. You speak to the caterer, then head off to the church to look at decorations, and pay a visit to the florist. Wait! You have an appointment with the insurance agent! The divorce insurance agent. What a grand way to begin your marriage.

Marriage is a covenant, a promise, a vow to be faithful to work through problems, hurts, and personal sin.  According to the article, 32% of marriages end before eight years. Know what happens next? Those people go and get married again, expecting it to be easier the second or third time around. Instead, they do the hardest years over again.

Most of us have problems in every relationship we are in — whether with our spouse, a neighbor, a parent, or a friend. Interpersonal conflict is everywhere. And what is the common denominator in all of your relationships? You. You have problems because of you. You are your own worst enemy. So stop blaming your wife or your husband. Stop running from your marriage(s). That is not going to solve your love problems. It’s only going to create death. And the death of divorce will only bring other kinds of death in ways you cannot fathom.

Read the whole article from the Omaha World Herald.


How do born again people love?

In 1 John 3:11-18, John gives us two ways that born again people love.

  1. Humbly rejoice at the greatness of others.
  2. Humbly sacrifice to meet the needs of others.

In verses 11-15, John tells us to rejoice at the greatness of others (especially Christians).  He also tells us how not to love.  He writes, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (vv. 12). Cain was jealous and was completely unable to rejoice with his brother Abel for his sacrifice offered to God.  John continues in verse 15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” When others succeed, the born again don’t murder them. They rejoice for them. I especially need grace in this. Lord, help me to celebrate the greatness of others instead of envying them!

In verses 16-18, John adds that a born again person loves others (especially Christians) by sacrificing to meet their needs.  He writes, “We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (vv. 16-17). The question is rhetorical. John says, “If you ignore the needs of people you don’t really have God’s love in you!” Lord, help me give sacrificially to others who are in need!

John ends with this tender, yet firm, command: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (v. 18). This doesn’t mean that we only love through actions. It doesn’t mean you are excused from saying to a Christian brother or sister, “I love you” (in a non-romantic sense!).  It also does not mean that people get saved because we give them food or drink.  Don’t mistake John: gospel people speak loving words, and the gospel message still needs to be spoken to non-Christians. Without loving, sacrificial actions (like rejoicing for people and providing for their basic needs), the gospel will not be taken seriously.

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Update: To clarify, when I say “greatness of others,” this may refer to whatever reflection of our Creator you see in others. No one has inherent greatness (see Rom. 3:10-12), but God bestows upon his people a taste of his glory in our character, personality, talents, abilities, etc. As for non-Christians, they are also made in the image of God and still have amazing talents, abilities, and creative capacities.  We should celebrate these things in them as well and help point them to their Creator who gave them these gifts.


“I’m Called To Love Them, But I Don’t Have to Like Them!”

Have you ever heard a Christian say this?  I’ve not only heard it, but said it many times. Yesterday, talking about Barack Obama, a friend told me that they love Obama but don’t like him.  (By the way, this was right before he called Obama a “self aggrandizing, arrogant socialist…who is a piss-poor leader.”)

Sometimes I wonder if we say “I love him, but I just don’t like him,” so that we can justify our sinful and selfish attitude or behavior toward an individual who is hard to love.  We say we love them and that love is a matter of the will, not an emotion.  That is, we argue that love is a choice, not a feeling, as my friend did.

But don’t feelings necessarily arise from the choices of our will?  I think they do.

I don’t see a difference in the Scriptures between liking and loving.  I think that we say things like this simply because we don’t want to do the hard, messy work of actually loving.  Consider though how God has loved us — the untouchable, unlovable sinners that we are.  He never said, “Well, I quite dislike this group since they are a stench to me, but I guess I’ll send my Son to show them how much I love them.”  The call for us is to be like him: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

In an article from 1970, John Piper talks about how it is impossible to have the will to love someone if we dislike them:

If we dislike another person it will be impossible to consistently will the loving thing for that person. Sometimes we will simply forget to restrain our feelings and other times when we think we have willed the loving thing, our dislike will have sneaked in through a patronizing tone of voice or a depreciating glance. We cannot love consistently if we do not like (emphasis added).

Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” and also, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:16; 44).  He did not say, “Love your enemies, but feel free to not like them if want.”  No one will glorify your Father in heaven for that.

What are your thoughts?