In the multitude of words there lacketh not sin. – Solomon
Read George Orwell’s 1984 and you will not think it impossible for the government to require every man, woman and child in the country to wear an integrated microcircuit “chip” attached to an upper lip, either buried under a mustache or openly displayed as a “beauty” mark, for the purpose of computerizing our speech and imposing a talk-tax. What surplus income the government would have! If this device were further telemetrically connected with a central-control polygraph, then each talking citizen could be taxed double for lies. In about the first three minutes of such taxation the National Debt would be paid up and the nation would be way off into the black!
In every circle of society, including that of the church, the most common fault is that of talkativeness. People talk too much. Naturally, because they think too little. An open mouth often reveals an empty head. The hollowest drum makes the most noise. A wise man will at the right time keep his mouth shut. “He that hath knowledge (something Talkative always boasted of) spareth his world: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.” (Grandfather would say such a man is of a precious spirit, while today he might be said to be of cool spirit, The word has these shades of meaning.) “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:27-28). The trouble is, these words of God largely go unheeded, no less in the church than in the world, and often more in the church than in the world. For the church today is again pestered with the so called Clossolalia movement, wherein so much is made of “speaking in tongues.” Once the gift of tongues was bestowed on and used in the church, given first on the antitypical day of Pentecost. The purpose of this gift was to enable apostles and believers receiving it to proclaim the gospel to foreigners in their own language. The gift consisted in the sudden command of a language formerly unfamiliar and never learned, but enabling communication of the Word of God to those with whom otherwise they would not have been able to communicate.
On that day there were “devote men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). To them the apostles “began to speak with other tongues.” Note than. They did not speak in an unknown tongue, which required an interpreter. But they simply delivered the Word of the Lord in the tongues or languages of the sixteen nations represented there at the time. “Every man heard them speak in his own language” (v. 6). So no translator was needed. Nor want there any jabbering in an “unknown tongue.” No. the strangers asked in astonishment, “How hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born?” (v. 8). Do modern Pentecostalists and members of the Glossolalia movement have this ability to speak in the languages of their foreign hearers? The latter, at Pentecost, had said, “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (v. 11). Does the modern tongues movement have supernatural ability to preach the gospel instantly to any and all kinds of foreigners in their own language? If the claimed gift of tongues does not pass that test, then without being flippant we may say, forget it! If it be pointed out that I Corinthians 14 contains the expression “unknown tongue,” it should be noted that the word “unknown” is printed in italics, indicates that it is not in the original text. Don’t be misled; the expression simply means a foreign language. But the gift of tongues is no longer continued to the church. Paul said, “whether there be tongues, they shall cease” (I Cor. 13:8). The reason they should cease follows in the words, “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (13:10). The apostle said that “tongues” would cease: they would vanish away. When? “When we have the full, perfect revelation of God in a finished Scripture. Now we have that complete revelation, so that there is no further need for the temporary gift of tongues.
Most everyone talks too much. There is too much talk about those not present to hear it. Much talk runs on because of misunderstanding, prejudice, ambition, competition (keeping up with the Jonses, and Jones trying to keep up with himself), opposition and just plain envy. Naturally, this talk is not without harm, either to ourselves or to others. Are you aware of how much you sin with the tongue? Probably very little, or not at all! Yet you probably hear and speak enough about absent ones, if you want to be strictly and plainly honest about it, to leave you a talebearer, a slanderer, a backbiter or a liar. Do you see yourself in that light? If so, then you will neither wonder at, nor be offended by, the Bible’s excoriating exhortations against the hellish sins of the tongue (James 3:6). Check yourself up once; rein yourself in and see how habitually, instinctively and spontaneously you speak about those not in your presence. Be objective enough to know that they at that moment are speaking about you. Then will you not be left just a bit astonished and horrified at yourself and the vicious circle you are caught in? If thine eye offend thee! Or thy hand! What about the tongue? Would it not be better to pluck it out before God, nor have it given back until you reach Immanuel’s Land, wherein dwelleth righteousness? It is so easy for the tongue to be aimed at some absent person. A little bit is thrown out and the tongue laps it right up! For example, someone praises your neighbor’s car. Immediately the car undergoes more than its normal depreciation. Or let a woman praise another woman’s beauty (a rarity!), and immediately the woman is found to have more flaws than attractions. Or let a preacher praise another preacher’s sermon, and that sermon is at least secretly picked to pieces while openly an embarrassed silence prevails. The idea is, never praise an artist’s art in front of another artist. Never praise a writer’s work before another writer. Never praise a man’s car, a woman’s beauty, a preacher’s sermon, an artist’s painting, or a writer’s composition to another man, woman, preacher, artist or writer, unless you want to bait, promote or expose the sins of the tongue. For if a man’s friends knew what he said about them behind their backs, would he be able to count all his friends in the world on one hand, not including the thumb? Would you? At that rate, and hating to admit it, I probably would not have one. How many would you have?
It was Faithful who, with Christian, looked around and saw a tall man walking at a distance besides them, whose name was Talkative. But Talkative as he was, he was neither gossip, nor slanderer, talebearer, not liar. Christian knew him as bad enough, but not so bad that he could not be left alone with Faithful. Clever he was in his talk. He believed it profitable to talk of the things of God. “By so doing, a man may get knowledge of many things. . . . He may learn the necessity of our works and the need of Christ’s righteousness . . . what it is to repent, believe and pray.” Faithful, for this, was quite taken with him. Christian had to inform him that for every one who knew him for what he was, Talkative would deceive with his tongue twenty who knew him not.
James also knew Talkative well. “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty” (2:12) So speak and so do! God judges both word and act. Talkative was only a man of words. Truth and grace had no place in his heart, house or way of life. All his religion was in his mouth. To him, religion was something to make a noise with. He knew the new birth, faith, repentance and prayer only to talk of. He had no more grace in him than the white of an egg has taste. He never began a day with the warning, “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment; for by thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words condemned” (Matt. 12:36). We often forget our words as easily and as soon as they are uttered. Yet we shall be judged in the last day not only for evil, but for idle words. Evil words are evidence of a wicked heart; idle words of a vain mind. What is in the heart wells up and pours out at the mouth. David in Psalm 64 speaks of the wicked and the workers of iniquity who whet their tongues like a knife. Their bitter words are like arrows. They shoot them in secret at the perfect. But God shall shoot at them with an arrow. He and they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves! It would be better to have a mountain to fall on us than an evil tongue in the day of wrath. The Gospel demands, “Let not a rotten word proceed out of your mouth” (Eph. 4:29), no “dirty language,” or, as Col. 3:8 has it, no eschrology, “shameful language.” Evil words have a very bad influence. They strike through others like lightening, setting them aflame. Idle words are also deceiving. Talking and living are two different things. Mere great talkers are sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. Talkative, like the hare, chews the cud, yet is unclean, because he parts not the hoof. Chewing on the cud he chews on the Word, seeking knowledge. But he parts not the hoof, he parts not with the way of sinners. He retains the foot of a dog, and so is unclean. He chews over his religion, but walks not in the way of it. Talkative, talks, but does not. “So speak ye, and so do!”
Originally Published in:
Vol. 31 No. 5 August/September 1971