Summary: What we say has the power to destroy or to build up. As Christians we should in every case seek to build up those around us.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous British preacher of the nineteenth century, was once invited to preach in London in a public auditorium called the Crystal Palace for a special service. The facility seated almost 24,000 people.
A day or two prior to the event, Spurgeon went to the Crystal Palace to decide where the pulpit should be placed and to test the acoustics. He thought he was alone in the large building. So, in his loud and thunderous voice, Spurgeon roared, "Behold, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world!"
However, a lone workman, who knew nothing of what was going on, was also present. When the man heard the words, they impacted him as a message from heaven. He was convicted of his sin. After a time of spiritual struggle, he found peace as he committed himself to Jesus.
We should never underestimate the power of speech. Yet, we are bombarded daily with so many words that we often become numb. In slick commercials we are told what car to buy, what food to eat, what clothes to wear, what fertilizer to spread on the lawn, and what to do about any number of other matters.
The steady parade of words that daily marches by us tempts us to close our ears and refuse to listen at all. Such weariness with words prompted one minister to spend a week in a monastery.
The basic requirement was that he take a vow of silence. He was not permitted to talk at worship, breakfast, lunch or dinner. Instead, meditation was the only agenda. He was expected to commune with God and to listen to the still small voice. How would such a vow of silence affect you?
In spite of our difficulties with speech .... others and our own ... Paul urges the church to speak. In verse 25-32, no less than eleven imperatives occur, exhorting the church to practice an ethical Christian lifestyle. Included is the imperative to speak.
What then are we to say? And how should we say it?
First, we are to.....
"Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you..." (4:25).
The verb, "to speak" is an imperative, a command. It is not optional. To do anything else is direct disobedience to God.
It may seem strange and unnecessary to remind Christians to speak the truth.
But this is exactly what Paul does. We live in a day when even Christians sometimes handle truth recklessly. We withhold the truth, bend the truth, and color the truth for our self-interest. Truth struggles for its very soul today.
The concern for truth is the foundation of all human relationships, whether it be in the family, church, or corporation. Paul said we must "speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another" (4:25). When truth is disregarded, both the person and the group become dysfunctional. Problems will inevitably result.
Whenever a witness takes the stand in a courtroom, he or she is asked to place one hand on the Bible and swear: "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God."
Paul says the Christians lifestyle is one of telling the truth. Christians should tell the truth without taking an oath. We should do it because of who we are as believers. It is ironic that our country, which was founded on religious principles, must resort to such things as truth-in-lending laws in order to protect the consumer.
We obviously should not speak non-truths, lies. However, some people can look a person straight in the eye and still tell a lie.
Once Tony Campolo and his wife were traveling in another country. She had written a stack of postcards to friends and family back home. She went to the local post office to buy stamps. The man behind the counter told her they were out of the stamps she needed. He offered to take her cards and money, put stamps on the cards, and mail them for her later. Being a trustful person, she agreed.
Later, when she informed her husband what had happened, he cringed and told her she could kiss her money and her cards good-bye. She defended her decision because the man sounded so sincere. Guess how many postcards arrived at the homes of her friends and relatives? Likely the man trashed the cards and kept the money.
We should not speak half-truths, either. Half-truths are half-lies, aren't they?
Time Magazine reported that deception evidently has become a common practice for many in America. A study of resumes' in the job market revealed that twenty-two percent contained outright lies. Workers misrepresented their job responsibilities, lied about job terminations, and claimed false degrees. A nuclear power plant hired a man with a high school diploma as its safety engineer. A woman without a medical degree worked as a doctor at four New York City hospitals. A prominent brokerage firm hired as an attorney a man who had never passed the bar exam. A professor at George Washington University allegedly used false identities to join six other college faculties in four years.