Sticks and Stones

March 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Common Expressions | 2 Comments
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The Words of God are not harmful, but high-handed disobedience to the Word of God can do worse than stones that break our bones.

But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him. And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

Numbers 15:30-36

Once, God sent the prophet Elijah to seek a widow woman, who would be able to provide him sustenance.

And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

I Kings 17:8-12

She got angry and used harsh words. She probably wanted to use those sticks to beat Elijah and break his bones, but she didn’t. Instead, she obeyed the Word of the Lord.

You have probably heard the old adage: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” According to the Bible, though, words have power, and they can actually be more dangerous, more harmful, and more powerful than sticks and stones.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:6-8

It’s not the sticks breaking bones that we ought to worry about. It’s the sticks kindling a fire.

There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.

Proverbs 12:18

One kind of harmful word is a cutting word – “a cutting remark” we sometimes say – but the tongue of the wise is health. The Word of God is sharp, but it makes the one who gets cut healthier, not sicker.

A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth: but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence.

Proverbs 13:2

What goes out of our mouths can produce spiritual fruit or poisonous fruit. A good rule of thumb is not to produce any fruit from our mouths that we wouldn’t want to eat ourselves.

A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.

Proverbs 25:18

A maul will break bones. Lies are a type of unwise words that do not always sound harmful because of their deceitfulness.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

Proverbs 18:21

A person who loves to hear himself talk will not always be guilty of saying something harmful, but we must constantly remember that we are going to have eat the fruit that is produced by what we say.

As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Proverbs 26:21

A person who gossips is like someone throwing fuel on a fire. The harmful fire that spreads through gossip can be snuffed out many times simply by keeping our mouths shut. Matthew 12:34 says that, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” but that doesn’t mean I always have to let everyone know what’s on my heart. Before speaking, I need to make sure that I am filled up with the Word of God and with the Spirit of God, so that what comes out is helpful, not harmful.

A Little Bird Told Me

January 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 5 Comments
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When I first started teaching Sunday School, the plan was to take a book of the Bible, and just teach through it sequentially each week. That, for the most part, is what I’ve done. However, I also wanted to mix in some variety, and, as I began to study the Bible more comprehensively, I was surprised to find how many common idioms came from the pages of Scripture, or at least were brought to mind by certain verses. I started calling these “common expressions,” and I would try to cover a new one each week. “The handwriting on the wall” and “the blind leading the blind” were two easy examples. My thinking was that when the students heard these expressions in everyday life, they would be reminded of Biblical principles, and possibly even seize an opportunity to steer the conversation toward the Gospel – especially those students who weren’t comfortable just blurting out, “If you died today where would you spend eternity?

As time went by it became harder and harder to come up with new common expressions, but during a time when we were studying the Book of Ecclesiastes, I discovered that Ecclesiastes Chapter 10 contains a relative cornucopia of “common expressions.” So far, I have written about “a fly in the ointment” and “his heart was in the right place.”

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ecclesiastes 10:11

The Bible frequently warns of the danger of running off at the mouth. As a Christian, I need to let the Holy Spirit control my tongue, and I need to analyze what I’m going to say before I blurt out whatever is on my mind. Is what I’m about to say going to hurt someone? Is it just going to be vanity? Or is it going to build someone up – encourage or edify them?

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Ecclesiastes 10:20

Here’s the third common expression from Ecclesiastes Chapter 10: “A little bird told me.” This is what people say when they are sharing a juicy bit of gossip about a common acquaintance and don’t want to admit the source. There’s no wisdom in talking about anyone behind his or her back – but especially someone in a position of leadership over you. In the “under the sun” world of competitiveness, selfishness, and manipulation, it’s foolish to think that what I tell a co-worker about our boss won’t get back to the boss. This applies in church, families, and other organizations as well. There are certainly more spiritual reasons to avoid gossip, but the Bible doesn’t ignore the practical reality that it will probably come back to bite you even in an unspiritual context.

Character and Integrity Part 3

August 28, 2009 at 10:31 am | Posted in character and integrity, Luke | 12 Comments
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Who are your three main enemies? They are the devil, the “world,” and your flesh. The devil wants to lie to you, and deceive you. Your flesh wants you to please you, and not to please God. The world wants you to be fake – something you’re not – so that it can somehow make money at your expense.

It is important to be what God wants you to be. When you are fake, God knows it, and that is damaging to your integrity. When you are fake, other people know it, and that’s damaging to your character. Let’s look at the example of Mary in the Bible, and see what we can learn about her character and integrity.

Mary lived in Nazareth, a disreputable place.

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

John 1:45-46

There are places today with a reputation similar to Nazareth. I grew up in a small town that is kind of the “Nazareth” of North Louisiana. Nazareth in Mary’s time would have been the kind of place where a teenaged girl could have easily been bored, seeing the merchants and traders going to and from Jerusalem. That boredom could have led to temptation and promiscuity and immorality for many of the teenaged girls who lived there.

However, Mary was engaged to be married, and she was a virgin. The angel Gabriel came to visit her. He told her that she would conceive and bear a Son, and that she was to name Him Jesus, and that this Jesus was the Son of God. Mary was probably around 13-15 years old at this time.

Contrary to Roman Catholic dogma, Mary was not sinless. She, like all of us, was a descendant of Adam. Of all the people ever to walk the face of the Earth, only Jesus was without sin.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Romans 5:12

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 3:23

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

Mary called called God her Savior (Luke 1:47). She knew she was a sinner, and she knew she needed a Savior.

Even though she was a sinner, Mary is a good Bible example of someone with integrity. She kept her virginity. She was saved.

Let’s look at her character. In a previous lesson we learned about the things which spoke well of David’s character.

Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.

I Samuel 16:28

We can compare this description of David to Mary.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Luke 1:28

People who knew Mary might have wondered about her character. God knew she was a virgin, but what do you think people said when they found out she was pregnant before she got married?

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

John 8:39-41

People who knew about Jesus’s birth and childhood accused Him of being born out of wedlock. That was a reflection of their opinion of Mary, too. However, Mary surrendered her character to the Lord.

Character has to do with your name – what other people think of you – but we can’t always control that. What happens when you have integrity, but other people are wrongly smearing your character? I have three school-age daughters, and I can tell you from what I know of their experiences that all children can be mean, but girls can be meaner than boys – especially when it comes to gossip.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

Even though Mary could predict how her miraculous pregnancy would affect her character, she said, “That’s fine with me, Lord.” Mary considered herself a handmaiden, and, in Mary’s day, handmaidens had to serve – and they had to serve joyfully.

Can you say with Mary, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word?” Before you begin to hope that God would never do something to you that would embarrass you the way Mary’s pregnancy embarrassed her, remember: He already has. His Word tells you to do all sorts of things that are going to make people think you’re weird. And some of those things are going to affect your character – in the short term.

Are we willing to look in the Book and see it what it says? Are we dressing immodestly? Do we tell lies? Do we put ourselves in places of sexual temptation? Are we actively hoping for some strong temptation to come along, so that when we fall, we can blame the temptation, and not ourselves?

Many Christians say, “I’m saved – but I’m going to mess up once in while.” If we call ourselves Christians, then we had better stand for the Name of Christ. When I fill in the blank on a form that asks what religion I am, and I say, “Christian,” I don’t want to be responsible for someone else saying no to Jesus, based on my character.

Mary not only surrendered to the Lord, she was happy about it. As soon as she heard about God’s plan, she went to see her cousin, and she sang a song of praise about it. Her song is found in Luke 1:46-55. It is often called the “Magnificat.”

The word “Magnificat,” comes from the same root which gives us our word, “magnify.” To “magnify” something means to “make something bigger” or “to give someone glory.” Mary’s song magnified the Lord. She was interested in making herself seem smaller, and the Lord seem bigger. Mary would not have been happy with the way this part of the Bible is often used today. The Roman Catholic Church has a well-known prayer referred to as the “Hail Mary.” It comes from a combination of Luke 1:28 and 42. The Catholic prayer says, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” But Luke 1:28 tells us that the “hail” with which the angel greeted Mary, was just that: a greeting – not a description of sinlessness. Mary was not “full of grace.” She was a sinner, saved by God’s grace, through faith. When the Bible calls her “highly favored” it means that Mary was the recipient of grace given to her by God.

Note that Luke 1:32 does not say, “You will be great…” It says, “He shall be great..,” referring to Jesus. And Verse 42, which says, “blessed art thou among women,” has Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin – not the angel – speaking.

So, what was Mary’s secret? How could she be so happy, so excited, so obedient… knowing that her character was going to be questioned? For one thing, Mary loved the Word of God – she knew the Scriptures.

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

Psalm 119:165

Remember, Mary did not have a Bible. She would have gone to the synagogue to hear the Word of God in the Old Testament being read aloud. Mary hid the Word in her heart – she memorized it. In her song, she quotes from the Law, the prophets, and the Psalms. Luke 1:50 has part of Exodus 20:6 in it. Luke 1:51 has part of Isaiah 40:10 in it. Luke 1:53 has part of Psalm 107:9 in it. If Mary could memorize Bible verses without even owning a Bible, how much more should we be able to do it when we can have access to a Bible any time we want!

It grieves me to see people – especially teenaged children – get up after a Sunday School class, and leave their Bibles laying on the floor. We have to wonder if Mary would have gone out of the synagogue and left her written copy of God’s Word, if she had had one, laying on the floor.

So we see, Mary could face the possibility of having people say bad things about her – to fail to see her true character – because she was not being fake. She was being real. She understood that her life needed to be given to obeying the Lord joyfully. The secret of having that joy was (1) surrendering to God’s Word and His way; (2) magnifying the Lord; and (3) knowing the Bible and memorizing it.

Unlike David, other people didn’t always say, “The Lord is with him/her…” However, when it comes to Mary’s character, think about the people who whispered about Mary, and said bad things about her behind her back. And then ask yourself, “Who do we recognize as the earthly mother of our Savior?” Bible students for centuries have honored the name of Mary for her Godly character, but we do not know the name of a single one of her critics. I’d say that’s pretty good character.

Friends or Foes?

May 22, 2009 at 9:32 am | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Biblical friendship, Biblical neighbors, Selected Psalms | 10 Comments
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The great psalmist of the Bible, David, was surrounded on all sides by threats, enemies, danger, and slander. He described his condition in Psalm 31:11: “I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.” Malicious lies have a way of spreading, and fake friends, perceiving that someone is persecuted, tend to make themselves scarce in the time of need.

David’s response to this situation should be an example for us today: He put his trust in the Lord, believing that his “times” were in God’s hand (Psalm 31:15). Understanding that God is in complete control of all circumstances is a great source of comfort, and a great encouragement to draw near to Him. What enemy can intimidate us when we are in His hands?

Noisy Neighbors

May 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Biblical neighbors, Selected Psalms | 8 Comments
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Much of the “double-speak” in today’s exploitative society can be frustrating. A large corporation which fires dozens of employees is said to be “downsizing.” Innocent bystanders injured in a war are called “civilian casualties.” A self-serving flatterer is called a “smooth talker.” Such duplicitous language has even crept into the church, as those who try to undermine the vision of their spiritual leaders, and disrupt the unity of a body of believers, call themselves “change agents.”

David, in his day, called upon the Lord to end this type of vain speech.

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:

Psalm 12:2-3

God has given us a great gift in being able to communicate through talking. What a shame if, as believers, we usurp the use of our tongues, and use them to spread gossip and stir up trouble, instead of surrendering them to the Holy Spirit for the building-up and encouraging of others in our church family. Our prayer should be that our “communication” is not really “manipulation” in disguise.


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