Children Behave! Watch Your Mouths!

Heritage Presbyterian Church

September 15, 2019
14th Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings – Ephesians 4: 25-32 & James 1: 19-27

 The great Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, was a clever man who knew when to speak and when to listen.  In his last year of office, he attended an official event.  Two men were seated a couple of rows behind him, and they began to whisper.

“That’s Winston Churchill,” said first.

“I hear he’s getting senile,” said the second.

“I heard some in the government say he should step aside and let younger, smarter men run the country,” said the first.

“I heard he doesn’t listen to anyone,” said the second.

When the official event was concluded, Winston Churchill turned around and said to the two whispering men, “I heard he’s deaf too.”

Oh…the trouble our tongues can get us into!

What kind of trouble, you may be asking yourself?  I think there are at least four kinds:

The first kind of trouble our mouths can get us into involves the things we’ve said.  We all know that when we say something hurtful or wrong or mean or demeaning, we can’t just take it back.  When little kids say things they shouldn’t, there is usually some sort of consequence that involves a “forced apology.”  (Say you’re sorry!)  But that won’t work for most adults.  We need to come together and talk and apologize and forgive; otherwise, moving on can be very difficult.

It’s even harder when we fail to follow what Paul told those Ephesians!  Look at all that he reminded them NOT to do:

  • Quit lying and speak the truth.
  • Control your anger and forgive.
  • Stop all evil talk.
  • Do not grieve the Holy Spirit; this one is very tricky because of all the possible definitions that could be possible, but at the end Paul is telling his friends not to do anything that would show others you are not worthy of your Christian faith.

Those are pretty tall orders, but Paul had obviously heard about things those Ephesians had been saying.  Now that they were believers, they were called to act differently.  They needed to deal with those words they had said – but they also needed to know how to deal with their words in the future.  Paul’s advice was pretty accurate for the Ephesians – and for us too.

The second kind of trouble our mouths can get us into involves those things we should have said.  Paul said virtually nothing about this category.  But James addressed it in a way that should make all of us think about not only what we’ve said but also what we should have said.

James talked about being “doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word.”  This is pretty simple, clear theology and I love it!  (I hate it when theology is so complicated that it makes my head hurt!)  James also says that if we do not “bridle” our tongues, it doesn’t matter how religious we are…our religion is worthless! 

James does not make the distinction between what is said and what should have been said; James says that all speech needs to be controlled and kind.  Otherwise…

One point to remember: our speech is the first example that most people see to demonstrate wisdom in our lives.  If we pay attention to our speech, then we are exhibiting wisdom. James admonishes believers to be ready to listen and slow to speak.  He also points out that angry speech lacks wisdom.

This is something I am always afraid of: if I am angry or annoyed or irritated, I am always afraid that I will say the wrong thing – which will only make things worse.  I can apologize and explain later, but we all know that is not as good as avoiding saying the angry statement in the first place.

Shooting one’s mouth off and expecting Christians to forgive and forget all the time is a pretty thoughtless thing to do.

The third kind of trouble our mouths can get us into involves those things we didn’t say because we didn’t want to look foolish.  Or to put it another way: we didn’t speak up because we were afraid. 

It is said that a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but one.  That is certainly true of not speaking up because we didn’t want to look foolish or because we were afraid.  When we do this, we also rationalize it the best:

  • “If I had said anything, everyone would have been angry at me.”
  • “If I had said anything, I would have only made it worse.”
  • “I was so angry that I was afraid of what would come out of my mouth.”
  • “I didn’t want to look stupid.”

These are the things we say to make ourselves feel better instead of saying something – and risking appearing to be a fool.  Many of us have been fools so often because of our mouths that this is almost an automatic instinct.

But those words from James can be haunting:  “Be doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word.”

If we are going to be doers of the word, then we have to speak up when we see something wrong.

My daughter and I witnessed a car wreck when she was about 8 years old.  Two cars collided right behind us when both of them attempted to change lanes.  One man got out of his car and seemed to be unhurt.  The other car had two men in it, one of whom was holding his upper arm and screaming in pain.  I pulled into a nearby parking lot, told my daughter to stay in the car, and ran over to see if I could help.  By this time – if you can believe it – a police car had already pulled up with two police officers in it.  One of them went to the first driver, who was unhurt; the other went to the man who was hurt.  I was stunned when the officer grabbed the man by his injured arm and tried to get him over to the other car.  At this point, my mouth took over: “Stop!  His arm is broken!  You’re hurting him!”  I yelled at the officer.  To this day, I have no idea why I did this.  Later on, my daughter lectured me all the way home about yelling at cops.  But I had to do something.

What happened was that the officers got everyone out of the street, and began interviewing them.  Somebody called for an ambulance to help the injured man, who was turning white at this point and was obviously in serious pain.  But another police car showed up with a senior officer in it.  When he arrived, he took over and the whole scene calmed down quickly.  That was when I left…wondering if I had done the right thing.

I don’t regret yelling at the police officer; I still don’t know why he grabbed that man by his injured arm.  But perhaps my tone was not proper.  That’s all I will offer up.

Finally, the fourth kind of trouble our mouths can get us into involves those things we said that looked bad at the time.  A perfect example of this is the play, “Twelve Angry Men.”  In it, a jury of all men is deciding the fate of a young man charged with murder.  If convicted, he will receive the death penalty, so the jury takes the case very seriously.  On the first ballot, all of them vote to convict the young man – except for one juror who refuses to change his vote.  As the play progresses, the twelve men become more and more angry with this one holdout.  But he will not change his vote, and everyone thinks he is foolish to do so.  But as they discuss the details of the case, the other jurors slowly begin to change their minds.  One by one, the votes change from “guilty” to “not guilty” as each juror is convinced by a particular piece of evidence.  And as the play goes on, the tension builds and the twelve men become very angry.  Finally, one lone juror is the only one to remain convinced of the young man’s guilt.  He is the angriest of the twelve men.  It takes the longest time to change his mind.  He is afraid of being wrong.  He is afraid of looking foolish.  He doesn’t realize that – by holding out despite all the evidence – he is already looks foolish.  Finally, he relents and changes his vote, and the play is done.

How often do we hide behind our pride instead of speaking up?  Or how often do we show some spine and speak up – even at the risk of appearing foolish?  Let me close with the story of a man who chose to not only look foolish…but also took his own life in his hands to help another man…sort of a Good Samaritan story.

Remember the LA riots in 1992 that occurred when police officers beat Rodney King after a routine traffic stop?  Then the officers who beat him were acquitted in court.  Los Angeles exploded with riots and death.  Gangs of furious people roamed the streets looking for any trouble they could cause.  One of them found a white truck driver named Reginald Denny.  They surrounded his truck, pulled him out of it, threw him on the ground, and began beating and kicking him.

Reginald Denny had done nothing wrong.  He had gotten lost and turned down the street with his dump truck and 25-tons of sand.

As the beating occurred, Bobby Green was watching the scene live and in color on television in his nearby living room. When he realized the beating was occurring right outside his own home, he jumped up and ran into the street.  He stepped between the injured man and the crowd and told them to back up.  He helped the injured man into the dump truck, and then Bobby Green drove the dump truck – still loaded with 25 tons of sand – to the nearest hospital.

Bobby Green probably looked pretty bad to his neighbors.  After all, he had interfered with what they were doing.  He didn’t know Reginald Denny.  He had no business doing anything at all that day…

Except that a man was dying, and Bobby Green had to say something.  So, he told the crowd to stop and get back.

I wonder what the crowd thought of Bobby Green’s words later.

James tells us we must be doers of the Word, not just hearers of the Word.

Paul tells the Ephesians to use their speech to show what kind of believers they are.

Our own hearts tell us to:

  • Mind the things we’ve said.
  • Mind the things we should have said.
  • Mind the things we didn’t say because we didn’t want to look foolish.
  • Mind the things we said that looked bad at the time.

The Lord tells us to love one another as he loved us. 

That includes how we speak to everyone all the time.