Sunday, February 5, 2017

Proverbs 12:13 --- The Power of Words

Proverbs 12:13
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.
The entire human race has a problem with words.  We misunderstand this proverb if we limit it to a particularly evil man who "is ensnared by the transgression of his lips."  The transgression of our lips is something in which the entire human race is involved.  Hear of your involvement and mine in Romans 3:12-14:

            “Their throat is an open grave;
                they use their tongues to deceive.”
            “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
                “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
There is a story told in our family about me as a little boy, probably when I was about two years of age.  I am the oldest of the children in our family, and when my father was in graduate school, Mom and Dad would often drive home to see the family on the weekends.  My Dad's brothers were notorious for their bad language.  I think it was hard for my father not to join in a bit when he was with them.  Apparently my two year old impressionable ears picked up on their language, because on the way home a car passed us going quite fast, and out of my young mouth came the words, "Look at that son of a bitch go!"  And, that may have been the cleaned up version of what I actually said! 

Sadly, nothing much has changed in the last 2800 years.  Isaiah's words are still true:
"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a     people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5)

Proverbs is clear, as is Jesus, that our words reveal our hearts.  If you want to know what your heart is like it is easy to find out.  Pay attention to your words.  They are a sure indicator of the condition of your heart.  Our Lord taught us this when he said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 cf. Proverbs 4:23-24).

Words, according to today's proverb can ensnare us.  Words can trap us.  Words can trap both the speaker and the hearers, as the footnote to the ESV points out.  Here are the two possible translations of the first line, which the ESV gives us:

            An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
            In the transgression of the lips, there is an evil snare.

The footnote is merely pointing out what is inherent in the language of every person.  Since our language reveals our hearts, if we could listen carefully to a person's words over the course of time, we would be able to detect the worldview of that person.  If a man is unconverted, his words won't reflect the wisdom that comes from above.  Instead, his words will reflect a worldview James tells us is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (James 3:15).  A worldview that gets it wrong about God (theology), man (anthropology), sin (hamartiology), redemption (soteriology), and consummation (eschatology).  Thus, every word that does not come from above is susceptible to ensnaring both the speaker and the hearer with a false theology.

How can we escape this wretched situation?  How can we escape the woeful state Isaiah spoke of when he cried out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips?"

The answer is a new teacher and a new heart.  Our new teacher is our Lord Jesus Christ.  Speaking of himself as the good shepherd, Jesus says, "The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:3-5).  A new heart comes from this good shepherd, for Jesus also says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).  In laying down his life for us, Jesus is able to cleanse us by his blood, and after his resurrection to send us the promised Spirit. 

Through his forgiveness, teaching, and Spirit, our Lord enables us to speak in a new way.  Born into the Father's family, like all children, we begin to sound like our parents.  In time our words begin to echo our Father's words and his Son's, rather than this present evil age.

The second line of our proverb is blessedly true.  "The righteous escapes from trouble," from the trap laid by an unbelieving world, and the prince of that world (Ephesians 2:1-2).  Jesus Christ came to rescue us from our sin, from this evil age, and from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13).  May we learn to imitate our Lord, who when he was on this earth, learned to listen and speak, morning by morning, from his Father and ours:

            The Lord God has given me
                the tongue of those who are taught,
            that I may know how to sustain with a word
                him who is weary.
            Morning by morning he awakens;
                he awakens my ear
                to hear as those who are taught.
            The Lord God has opened my ear,
               and I was not rebellious;
                I turned not backward. (Isaiah 50:4-5)

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