Day 293

Words, the Word of God and ‘words’

Wisdom Proverbs 25:11-18
New Testament 1 Timothy 4:1-16
Old Testament Jeremiah 42:4

Introduction

Actor David Suchet, well known for his title role in Poirot, tells how a few years ago he was lying in his bath in a hotel in America, when he had a sudden and impulsive desire to read the Bible. He managed to find a Gideon Bible and started to read the New Testament. As he read, he encountered Jesus Christ. He said:

‘From somewhere I got this desire to read the Bible again. That’s the most important part of my conversion. I started with the Acts of the Apostles and then moved to Paul’s Letters – Romans and Corinthians. And it was only after that I came to the Gospels. In the New Testament I suddenly discovered the way that life should be followed.’

The most powerful words ever written are in the Bible. Words are an important theme in it, and the use of the word ‘word’ is used in different senses in today’s passages.

  • First, it is used in the sense of our words. The things we say can be good or bad (Proverbs 25:11–20).
  • Second, it is also used in the sense of the Word of God. This is supremely Jesus Christ (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:2), but also refers to the Word of God in the Scriptures and in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 4:1–16).
  • Third, the Bible also uses the phrase ‘the word of the LORD’ in the sense of prophecy (Jeremiah 42:7). God continues to speak to the church through prophetic messages (1 Timothy 4:14). Of course, we need to distinguish the Old Testament prophets, whose ‘words’ were definitely ‘the word of the Lord’ and are now part of Scripture, from prophetic ‘words’ today, which need to be tested against Scripture.
Wisdom

Proverbs 25:11-18

11 Like apples of gold in settings of silver
   is a ruling rightly given.
12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold
   is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.

13 Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time
   is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him;
   he refreshes the spirit of his master.
14 Like clouds and wind without rain
   is one who boasts of gifts never given.

15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
   and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
   is one who gives false testimony against a neighbour.

Commentary

Use your words to good effect

  1. Good words

    The words we speak really matter. Sometimes, they have a very good effect. When someone finds the right words for the right occasion there is something very beautiful about it: ‘The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry’ (v.11, MSG).

    Something less easy to hear, but equally valuable is ‘a wise rebuke to a listening ear’ (v.12b). Receiving criticism is always hard but, as the writer of Proverbs says, ‘a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger’ (v.12, MSG). Friends who love us enough to challenge us are highly valuable.

    Likewise, trustworthy friends or messengers who keep to their word ‘are like cool drinks in sweltering heat – refreshing!’ (v.13, MSG).

    The tongue is so powerful: ‘Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone’ (v.15). Or as The Message puts it, ‘gentle speech breaks down rigid defences’.

  2. Bad words

    There are some uses of words that the writer of Proverbs warns us against. Empty promises lead to disappointment: ‘Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given’ (v.14).

    On the whole, it is not good to spend too much time talking to any one person or group of people: ‘When you find a friend, don’t outwear your welcome; show up at all hours and he’ll soon get fed up’ (v.17, MSG). We need a balance in our relationships. Words need to be spread wisely.

    Another bad use of words is ‘false testimony’ (v.18) – saying what is untrue. This could be in court or simply in our conversation or online: ‘Anyone who tells lies against their neighbours in court or on the street is a loose cannon’ (v.18, MSG). It is very painful to read or hear things that are simply untrue.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the power of words to bring blessing. Today, put a guard over my lips and watch over my tongue that I might speak only good words.

New Testament

1 Timothy 4:1-16

4 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

6 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 ... devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Commentary

Devote yourself to the Word of God

It is sad and disappointing when professing Christians stray from their faith. Paul writes that some are giving up on their faith and chasing after ‘demonic illusions put forth by professional liars’ (v.1, MSG).

Guard yourself against deception by studying the truth – which is revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.

Paul warns against false teaching that tells us ‘not to get married’ or ‘not to eat this or that food’ (v.3, MSG). He writes, ‘The Spirit clearly says…’ (v.1) and ‘everything God created is good, and is to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy’ (vv.4–5, MSG).

Paul urges Timothy to pass on the ‘good teaching’ he has received (v.6). An example of the good teaching is ‘a trustworthy saying’ (v.9) – that God ‘is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe’ (v.10).

Timothy is called to ‘Get the word out. Teach all these things’ (v.11, MSG). He is to be an example to the believers in speech (as well as in life, in love, in faith and in purity). Paul urges him to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, of preaching and teaching (v.13). This must always be a high priority for Christian leaders (see 5:17).

All this is part of training ‘yourself to be godly’ (4:7). It is good to exercise and keep fit: ‘Physical training is of some value’ (v.8a), but training in ‘godliness’ is far more important than physical training. ‘Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness... making you fit both today and forever’ (v.8b, MSG).

In the Christian life, your age does not define your maturity. Paul writes, ‘Don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young’ (v.12, MSG). Whatever your age, you can set an example by your life. Furthermore, age is no bar to teaching the word of God.

Paul urges Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely (v.16). Watch your life and your lips. ‘Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching’ (v.16, MSG).

He also refers to a gift that was given to Timothy through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on him. This is a New Testament example of a ‘word’ from the Lord given through the gift of prophecy.

Prayer

Lord, help me to train myself in godliness (v.7b), to devote myself to the Scriptures and to set an example in every area of my life (vv.12–13).

Old Testament

Jeremiah 42:4

4 ‘I have heard you,’ replied Jeremiah the prophet. ‘I will certainly pray to the LORD your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the LORD says and will keep nothing back from you.’

Commentary

Listen carefully to the ‘words’ of the prophets

Have you ever been in a situation where you decided what you were going to do and then looked for a word from God to confirm what you had already decided in your heart to do?

I’ve been there. It is not a good place to be. This is what happened here. The people of God had decided they wanted to go down to Egypt and they wanted Jeremiah to give them a message from God confirming it was the right thing to do. It led to disaster.

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who had a reputation for being able to hear ‘the word of the Lord’ (42:1–7).

Israel had reached one of the lowest points in its history. Gedaliah, who had been appointed as governor over the remnant of the people who had not gone into exile (40:7), had been murdered (40:7 – 41:15). Since the water supply was so precious in Palestine, the fouling of the cistern was a particularly irresponsible act of vandalism (41:9).

Johanan was thoroughly competent to deal with the situation involving military skill. But his only thought was to escape to Egypt from what he imagined to be the inevitable Babylonian reprisals. In this policy, he was to clash with Jeremiah.

Johanan and all the army officers came to Jeremiah and asked him to ‘pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do’ (42:3).

Jeremiah’s response was ‘I will certainly pray to the Lord your God as requested; I will tell you everything the Lord says and will keep nothing back from you’ (v.4).

They promise, ‘Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey the Lord our God’ (v.6).

It is interesting to note that, even for Jeremiah, guidance did not come instantly on the spur of the moment. Instead, ‘Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah’ (v.7).

He faithfully passed it on: ‘This is what the Lord… says…’ (v.9). He promises blessing if they stay in the land (vv.10–12) and judgment if they go in to Egypt (v.13 onwards).

It turned out that they had already decided what they would do and merely wanted the Lord to confirm it. They made the mistake of not obeying the word of the Lord (v.21). How vital it is to ask the Lord before we make our decisions rather than after!

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you speak to us through the Scriptures and the prophets. Help me to listen carefully to your words and to obey them.

Pippa adds

Proverbs 25:17 it says:

‘Seldom set foot in your neighbour's house – too much of you, and you will be hated.’

COVID-19 has changed many things. I used to think we had almost too many people in our house and then the shutdown came, and I missed everyone. I will never take for granted the freedom to socialise again.

Thought for the Day

‘From somewhere I got this desire to read the Bible again. That’s the most important part of my conversion. In the New Testament I suddenly discovered the way that life should be followed.’ – David Suchet

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References

Bill Bradfield, On Reading the Bible: Thoughts and Reflections of Over 500 Men and Women (Dover Publications, 2005), p.121.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • HOST'S INTRO
  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS
  • HOST'S OUTRO

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