“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not be partakers with them;”
“It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away” - The Bee Gees
When the Gibb brothers put their heads together in 1968 to write their song, “Words”, they said a lot more than what comes off the surface. In the main line of the song they manage to convey the message that words can be insignificant, or they can change the course of a person’s life.
It’s only words. Insignificant by themselves. But if you’ll believe that they are from my heart, I mean for them to seal your heart to mine.
There’s no doubt about it, and it’s hardly a position that needs defending; that words are powerful. Both for good and for bad.
I checked my Strong’s concordance for the word, ‘word’, and ‘words’, and just at a glance, there were hundreds of instances of the use of those two words in the scriptures. The Bible has a lot to say about our words, and God’s Word.
All I want to do today though, is impress upon you the power of the spoken word, and the great importance the Bible places on our words, and then go on to study our text passage in light of that.
Jesus Himself gave this warning to His hearers:
“And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” Matthew 12:36,37
And you may remember some strong statements from James about the tongue:
“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” James 3:3-6
And he’s not done! He goes on from there to exhort his reader further concerning the use of the tongue in our communications.
By the spoken word, wars have been started and peace treaties have been made. Vows have been taken, and by words, broken. Words are responsible for the saving of lives, and the taking of lives. They are tools; and in the mouth of a master of words, they can make us laugh, weep, inspire to courage and nobility, tear us down, destroy our self-esteem, insult us, make us afraid, exhort us to good or tempt us to evil.
And this is where we come to our text.
What does Paul mean by the term, ‘empty words’? This is one case where I like the Amplified translation. In it, verse 6 says, “Let no one delude and deceive you with empty excuses and groundless arguments” and then in parenthesis it adds “(for these sins)”, because Paul is still talking about the evils he had listed in previous verses that are contrary to Christian character.
Empty excuses and groundless arguments.
That’s really what it has come down to in our day and age, hasn’t it? Not that it hasn’t always been around; after all, that’s why Paul wrote these words two thousand years ago.
But all the modern means of communication, and the recent technologies that have allowed us to see and hear news around the world in an instant have just made the Devil’s job easier.
Empty words fly at lightening speed from person to person, town to town, nation to nation, excusing the basest of sins, the vilest of behaviors; de-emphasizing all that is good and emphasizing as good, all that is bad.
A federal judge uses empty, vain words to justify jettisoning the Ten Commandments from public view, while a liberal news media subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) ridicules our President for taking a stand against same-sex marriages.
What are some of the empty words we’ve heard over the past 30 years?
“If it feels good, do it”
“If it hurts no one else there’s nothing wrong with it”
“It’s just an alternate lifestyle, and just as valid as your traditional lifestyle”
“It’s not a person until it takes its first breath”
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts” Now that’s a subtle one, and it sounds like the speaker is exhorting the hearer to make the most of life and enjoy it.
But taken to a logical conclusion it says that where you’re going to spend eternity doesn’t matter. Because Heaven and Hell are myths and if there is a God He doesn’t care about us or He died a long time ago, so enjoy the ride, my friend, because there’s only the journey, and wouldn’t you hate to come to the end having wasted it looking forward to a reward, only to find there’s none to be had.
Empty words are like the empty cistern. Promise of refreshing and life-sustaining substance as you approach, but broken and filled only with disappointment in the end.
“Click on this website for free sex” So you click and you look and then you find yourself spending money to look more. And by the time you realize it wasn’t free at all, you’re hooked and need to see, so you pay more, only now you’re not just paying with money. You’re paying with your dignity and at the cost of your relationship with God and family.
“Come to Vegas and play. And our motto is ‘what happens here stays here’.” How blatant can the promise be, of a weekend of debauchery and sin with no consequences to pay?
But they’re empty words, my friend, empty words. Because you will pay consequences. And if you are a believer in Christ and let yourself be deceived and drawn back into the behaviors that will bring the wrath of God down on the sons of disobedience, believe me when I tell you that those consequences will tear you to shreds!
“Be sure your sin will find you out”, Moses warned the people, “Be sure your sin will find you out”
And God will not let you go long in that path if you’re a believer in Christ. Listen to me now! If you name the name of Christ and yet because you’ve listened to empty words you’ve justified in your own mind your going back to the vile ways of the old man, God will bring you to the point of crisis in your life that may have explosive results; and could turn your life to an entirely different path than you ever thought you’d have to take!
Repent now and turn from those things forever. If you cannot find repentance, then pray and weep and beg with open tears that He will grant you repentance and rescue you from the mire. Because the days are short, Christian, they fly away and are lost, and you don’t know how many you have left.
THE SOURCE OF EMPTY WORDS
Back in the late sixties when Dragnet was a popular television show, it addressed itself often to the hot topics of the day. It was really pretty preachy at times, but that was still ok 40 years ago.
On one episode Detective Joe Friday was debating with a wayward teen about the evils of drugs. When all the arguments were said and both sides were heard, Friday ended by saying “Y’know what I think of marijuana? I judge it by the company it keeps”.
Well when we put all the empty excuses and groundless arguments of the world for its sin in a big basket and look in, we can cut through all the debating by considering the source of them all. Satan.
He offered the world’s first empty words, right there in the garden of Eden. All of the evils of the fallen nature are the children of the same thing that appealed to Adam and Eve on that day sin was entered into the world. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life.
And their pride, their desire to be their own god, was stimulated in them by the first empty words. “Indeed, has God said ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
No, He did not, and Satan knew it very well. He said “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die”.
But with empty words he confuses.
Then he declares, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”
With empty words he deceives.
And death entered into the world.
From that moment until now, man has used empty excuses and groundless arguments to pursue the objects of his lusts, deceive his neighbor and his business contacts, to justify his most putrid sin, to reject God and shun any accountability to God, and to have his way whatever the cost to anyone else, with minimum cost to himself.
But in the end, because of these things, the righteous wrath of Holy God will rain down on the sons of disobedience; and there will be no escape, and empty words will not excuse them or rescue them then.
DO NOT PARTAKE WITH THEM
Take a moment to contemplate this word ‘partakers’ in verse 7. To partake with someone indicates a partnership. A sharing. An association. A fellowship
To the Corinthians Paul put the questions, “…what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” II Cor 6:14-16
In this list of questions the common denominator we see is that they are opposites. Belial is an Old Testament word that generally referred to worthlessness or utter destruction. But during the period between the old and new testaments it came to be used as a proper name for Satan.
So note that in this list Paul sets the believer up against the unbeliever as opposites.
Now that doesn’t mean we should be killing each other, or that believers should avoid all contact with unbelievers. We need to love them and give them the Gospel, of course.
But we must be very clear that they are still darkness. They are still dead. They are still vulnerable to and helpless against the empty, vain words that call them to immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness and silly talk, coarse jesting, and idolatry.
In those things we are the opposite of them. We are light. We are life. We are aware of the empty words, and we are indwelt by the Spirit who gives us wisdom and discernment and empowers us against the allure of groundless arguments.
We are not to be partakers with them, either in their sin or in the wrath that is to come.
Now here is where we come to a doctrinal fine line. We believe in the eternal security of the believer. The most redneck of us like to shout ‘once saved always saved’ even though that’s the closest they can come to an intelligent discussion on the subject, but at least they get the main point.
But I remember one of my Bible College instructors saying that although he too believed in the security of the believer, he found it difficult to imagine God, at the rapture, sending angels wading through bars and brothels looking for wayward Christians.
So we have a bit of a problem, don’t we? We believe that once we are saved we are secure in God, standing in Christ’s righteousness, for the rest of eternity. And we should believe that, because it is the clear teaching of the scriptures, and it is the only way to understand God’s amazing grace.
But then why are there so many verses of scripture written to Christians, warning against missing out on God?
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.”
And I’d have to quote almost all of I John, to show you all the places he says that if we say we’re a Christian but do or do not do certain things, we aren’t Christians at all!
So how do we reconcile this with the doctrine of eternal security? If we’re eternally secure and cannot be lost once we’re saved, then why any scriptural exhortations against sin and neglect and drifting away and all those things we’re warned against?
I’ve heard this one. “There’s spiritual Christians and there’s carnal Christians”. I have a hard time with that one. There is no fleshly Christian. We’re Christians spiritually, and the Divine Nature imparted to us is manifested through our members.
But as another of my instructors was fond of saying, very profoundly, “Either you is or you ain’t” You’re a Christian, or not a Christian. Saved, or unsaved. Of the family of God, or excluded from the family of God. Alive in Christ, or dead in sin.
So what I see the epistles telling me, is that if I can continue to practice sin as a lifestyle, unrepentant and un-convicted, then no matter what I say I am, I am not a Christian.
What you are is infinitely more important than what you say you are. Because when what you say you are runs contrary to what you really are, it is what you really are that’s going to dictate your responses, reactions and decisions in life, and testify to those around you of the truth.
What you really are, eventually, will expose what you say you are as a falsehood.
So I am constrained to offer solemn warning here; if you are the kind of person people might tend to label a “Carnal Christian”, because of your lifestyle; if you would excuse the things in your life by saying, “Well, I can’t help it, I’m still a carnal Christian…God isn’t finished with me yet”, then for the sake of your eternal soul I have to exhort you to examine yourself whether you really are a Christian at all.
Because Paul says not to be partakers with those still in darkness. And if you’re partaking, sharing, fellowshipping, and excusing, then I don’t care if you carry a 40 pound Bible and sing hymns in the shower, you aren’t a Christian!
WONDERFUL WORDS OF LIFE
Well, we finish at the starting place. The power of words. Empty words deceive and draw into the vilest of sin.
But there are words that give life also, and those we have in the pages of scripture.
Even the ones that warn us against words that bring death, are there to bring and sustain life.
Someone recently quoted orthodox Jewish Rabbis as saying “We believe every book of the Bible to be inspired. We believe every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired. We believe every paragraph of every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired. We believe every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired. We believe every word of every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired. We believe every letter of every word of every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired. We believe every punctuation mark by every word of every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired. But more, we believe every space between every word of every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter of every book in the Bible to be inspired by Almighty Jehovah.
Of course, they’re only talking about the Old Testament, but we believe the same of the New, don’t we?
And having said all that, we agree that the written word is the perfect testimony to Christ, the Word of God, who was in the beginning with God as John says in the opening of his gospel. Therefore the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.
He told the unbelieving Pharisees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is these that bear witness of Me” John 5:39
And in Luke 24 we read that while on the road to Emmaus with two disciples “…beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the scriptures.” Luke 24:27
Fellow believer, we do not always stand firm, do we? And sometimes we read passages such as the one we’re studying today and we sense just a twinge of dread, because Paul calls us ‘light’ and he calls us God’s ‘beloved children’, and he says that we should not be deceived by empty words and that we should walk as children of light and… well, we know that we can keep up the pace for a while, but then one day we act like children of wrath. And that only serves to remind us how weak and vulnerable we are; and what a propensity we have toward failure.
But you need to know and understand, and take courage in this; that neither Paul nor his Christ ever expected you to do these things in your own power and according to your own strength and goodness. Because those things don’t really exist in you. At least, not to fulfill Godly righteousness.
Christ is the One who stands, and you stand in His righteousness. You are children of light, which we’ll talk about later. Another parenthesis I like in the Amplified translation at that point says, ‘lead the lives of those native-born to the Light’.
Remember who gave you light and life. Remember who is the righteous One, and stand in His righteousness, and put your trust there. Make it your duty and joy to devour the Word of life, and you will not be deceived by empty excuses and groundless arguments.
And you will rest peacefully in the knowledge that when you stumble, He neither condemns nor criticizes, but lifts you up, cleanses you and sets you on the path to glory.
When you understand that, these exhortations to holy living will turn from drudgery to delight!
It fortifies my soul to know
That, though I perish, Truth is so:
That, howsoe’er I stray and range,
Whate’er I do, Thou dost not change.
I steadier step when I recall
That, if I slip, Thou dost not fall.
- Arthur Hugh Clough