Skip Heitzig - Roar (Psalms 140-141)
You know, your tongue is one of the most important parts of your body. It's small, but you depend on it, and so do we. Because without your tongue, you wouldn't be able to speak, and we wouldn't be able to know what you're thinking. Without your tongue, you wouldn't be able to sing. I know for some that may be plus, but for most it wouldn't be. Without your tongue, you wouldn't be able to whistle. Without your tongue, you wouldn't be able to eat, because it is your tongue that directs the food in your mouth toward the throat enabling you to swallow it. Without your tongue, you wouldn't be able to taste anything, those taste buds, between 3,000 and 10,000 receptors are on the top and the bottom of your tongue. At the same time, your mouth, and especially your tongue, is one of the dirtiest parts about you.
Scientists tell us that there's more bacteria per square inch on the backs of our tongue than any other place in the human body. That's why hygienists will tell you, "When you brush your teeth, don't forget to brush your tongue, because that's where the germs are". Well, I am not here to really tell you about oral care as much as I'm here to tell you about verbal care, because your tongue, your mouth, a metaphor for the words that you speak, is one of the most dangerous parts about you. You know that James, chapter 3, talks about this. He writes, "The tongue is a small thing, but what an enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison".
In Proverbs 18, Solomon went so far as to say, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue". Think of the power of a doctor's words who could say to a patient, "You have a clean bill of health," or, "You have six months to live", powerful words. Think of the words of a judge who could say to somebody in the courtroom, "You're free to go," or, "Twenty years in the state penitentiary", very, very powerful words. Maybe you can relate to this prayer: "Dear Lord, so far today I've done okay. I've kept my mouth shut. I haven't gossiped. I haven't lost my temper. I haven't been grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm really glad about that, but in a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on I'm probably going to need a lot more help. Amen".
Psalm 140 and Psalm 141 are companion psalms. They relate to each other, both deal with the subject of words, of speech. In fact, Hebrew scholars tell us that nearly every verse in Psalm 141 contain words from Psalm 140. So we read these psalms together, because we believe they're companion psalms. But let me tell you the difference between the two. Psalm 140 is what's called an imprecatory psalm. I know that's just a big word, but let me tell you what "imprecatory" means. An imprecation is a call for vengeance or payback. So an imprecatory psalm is a prayer where David, who is verbally attacked by enemies that surround him, asks God for payback. That's an imprecatory psalm.
When we get to Psalm 141, that's a different kind. That's an imploratory psalm. That is where David, recognizing he himself has a problem with his own speech, asks God for help with it. It's estimated that the average man or woman will open his or her mouth 700 times per day to speak. That's not how many words you speak, you'll speak between 7,000 and 20,000 words, but you will open your mouth about 700 times to speak. So we have 700 opportunities every day to get it right or to blow it badly. So with that in mind, let's read these two psalms and then I'll give you the principles that are in it. Psalm 140 begins:
Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; Preserve me from violent men, Who plan evil things in their hearts; They continually gather together for war. They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips. Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; Preserve me from the violent men, Who have purposed to make my steps stumble. The proud have hidden a snare for me, and cords; They have spread a net by the wayside; They have set traps for me. I said to the Lord: "You are my God; Hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord. O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle. Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of wicked; Do not further the wicked scheme, Lest they be exalted. As for the hand of those who surround me, Let the evil of their lips cover them; Let burning coals fall upon them; Let them be cast into the fire, Into deep pits, that they rise not up again. Let not a slanderer be established in the earth; Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him". I know that the Lord will maintain The cause of the afflicted, And justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; The upright shall dwell in your presence. Lord, I cry out to you; Make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry to you. Let my prayer be set before you as incense, The lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice wicked works With men who work iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies. Let the righteous strike me; And it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked. Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff, And they hear my words, for they are sweet. Our bones are scattered at the mouth of the grave, As when one plows and breaks up the earth. But my eyes are upon you, O GOD the Lord; In you I take refuge; Do not leave my soul destitute. Keep me from the snares they have laid for me, And from the traps of the workers of iniquity. Let the wicked fall in their own nets, While I escape safely.
Using these two psalms, let me give you what I believe are three guidelines that come from both of these psalms, three guidelines on using your words, using your speech. Here are the guidelines: some words are hurtful; other words are helpful; all words are consequential. If you're taking notes, you want to write those three things down: some words are hurtful; other words are helpful; all words are consequential. And now we'll form our outline as we go through these two psalms. Consider the first, consider hurtful words. Some words are hurtful. And there's three types of hurtful speech that are identified by David. First of all, sharp words, sharp words. In verse 3 of Psalm 140, David writes, "They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips". What a descriptive set of words describing sharp words.
Now, an asp is an Egyptian snake. It's one of the most dangerous, venomous on the planet. The victim, after bitten, has four minutes before he or she dies. So it's a very, very descriptive set of words. Now, there are some people that when you have a conversation with them, they just know how to inject venom into it. It might not be a direct assault, it might be a backhanded, passive-aggressive, sharp word that they just love to inject conversation after conversation. And those are the kinds of words that will destroy friendship and erode trust. Maybe you work with somebody who has a sharp tongue. Maybe you live with someone who has a sharp tongue, no nudging, please. Or maybe you are someone who has a sharp tongue. Maybe that is the chief problem of your life. In fact, I will say the closer you are to a person, the greater is the capacity for mutual pain. Because the closer you are to a person, the more you know that person. You know what they like. You know what they hate. You know what words will cause them to get upset.
So, you know what buttons to push and you know when to do it. So the closer you are to a person, the more capacity you have for mutual pain. I read an article about a twelve-year-old girl in Florida just last year who went to an abandoned cement factory in Florida and jumped to her death. She committed suicide. When you hear that a twelve-year-old commits suicide, you wonder what caused that. Did she have trouble at home? Come to find out she had a great home life. Her parents loved her. They were together. There were no issues between them. So you wonder, was it that she was experiencing bad grades at school? No. Her grades were pretty good. Was she facing some physical disease? No. There were no health issues. As they dug, they found out that she had been getting Facebook messages from so-called friends, those who were close around her in school. But all of the messages sent were death wishes, till they finally said on her Facebook, "Are you even still alive? You should be dead". And it happened so frequently that she took her life.
In Proverbs 12 Solomon says, "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword". Did you know that snails have tongues with teeth on them? One scientist discovered under his microscope as he unraveled it 30,000 little, talk about a sharp tongue, seriously, a snail. It's like a little secret weapon. It's rolled up in its mouth, but he can pull it out and saw through stems and leaves and debris. Some folks have a sharp tongue. They keep it rolled up ready to unravel at just the right time and drop just the right bomb into a conversation. Sharp words are hurtful. A second category is mentioned in our psalm, not sharp words, but spiteful words. Go down to verse 9 of Psalm 140. "As for the head of those who surround me," now notice this phrase, "let the evil of their lips cover them". Hear the word "evil" or "evil of their lips" is malicious or spiteful or threatening words. That's how it's generally seen or translated. However, the Hebrew word amal for "evil" literally means troublesome, filled with anxiety, laborious, toilsome, or having a wearing effect.
There are some words you get exposed to and they have a wearying, toilsome effect. Think of the vulgarity and profanity that just, you hear it so often it just, I hope it wears on you, it grates at you. In fact, it's everywhere, so much so that everybody says, "Oh, well that's just normal nowadays". I don't think there's any form of media entertainment where vulgarity isn't the norm anymore. And virtually every workplace in America it has become the norm. A Time magazine article states: "Profanity on broadcast television has risen 70% percent in the last five years". Now, if that isn't shocking to you, this should be, because this is the purpose of the article that I'm quoting. Time magazine said this: "Children exposed to swear words on television will become more physically aggressive. The aggressive speech, usually accompanied by aggression seen on the screen, will translate," according to the experts quoted in this Time magazine article, "into a physically aggressive behavior".
Now, when I was a boy, and if I ever said a bad word, my mom had a solution for it. I hear it, that's right. She would take a bar of soap, take me over to the sink, and shove that bar of soap into my mouth, let me taste it, and then she'd wash it out with soap. And I thought, "What's the purpose of that"? She said, "You know, I've got to clean up your speech. Gonna wash your mouth out with soap". I never will forget that. To this day if I'm in the shower and I taste a little bit of soap, my mind goes back to those traumatic experiences of my childhood. Here's what's ironic; what I was having my mouth washed out for back then is what's on prime time today.
In 1946, I know that goes back a ways, but just follow me here. In 1946 a movie came out, still is played every single Christmas. It's a Christmas classic with Jimmy Stuart. What's the name of it? It's a Wonderful Life. It's a great film, right? It's a feel-good movie. And in this movie Jimmy Stewart is the actor, and uh... You have to be really old to even laugh at that, because everybody else is going, "I don't get it. Who is this Jimmy Stewart guy"? Okay, so in this movie, 1946, It's a Wonderful Life, the original screenplay as produced, when the movie was produced, there were certain words in the movie that had to be deleted because they said, "People can't listen to these words. It is not appropriate. It is unacceptable for the viewing audience to have these words in entertainment".
I want you to know what those words were that were deleted, these words: jerk, deleted from the movie, inappropriate for audiences; lousy, deleted; dang, taken out; impotent, removed; and garlic eaters, taken away from the film. "Well, 'garlic eaters' is offensive to me". Censored, we've come a long way. Spiteful words. Look at a third category in our psalms: slanderous words. Go down to verse 11 of Psalm 140. Verse 11, "Let not a slanderer be established in the earth," David prays. A slanderer is a talebearer. It describes somebody who roams around looking for a person to tell something to. "I have a tale to tell; will you listen"? Here's the description: "I am more deadly than the screaming shell of a cannon. I win without killing. I tear down homes, I break hearts, wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me. No purity is pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea and often as innocent. I never forget and I seldom forgive. My name is Gossip".
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 18, "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels". Now just picture that. You sit down to a nice meal. Your stomach is churning, because you're hungry. You smell the food. Now you take your first bite, and when you take it, you go, "Mmmm". Why? Because it's a choice morsel. And there are folks, who when they hear gossip, it's like, "Mmmm, tell me a little bit more," and there are some who feel that way in telling those kinds of things, which shows us the problem of gossip. It's not just in the telling of it, it's in the hearing of it. There wouldn't be so many open mouths if there weren't so many open ears who go, "Mmmm, tasty morsels," to receive it. Now, have you ever experienced this? Somebody you know, you haven't seen, might be for a couple weeks, then you see them again, but suddenly they appear to you to be very different. They're kind of cold toward you. Their attitude toward you is, like, aloof and cold and standoffish. And it's as if the winds of the relationship has shifted and you wonder, "What's up"?
I can almost guarantee you they've heard something. They've been listening to someone say something that causes that response whenever they see you. So, let me suggest that before you entertain the hearing of a bad report about somebody else, that you ask five questions. Question number one, ask the person this: Why are you giving me this information? Why are you telling this to me? I can almost guarantee they're telling you that because they feel, they believe you will be a sympathetic ear, that you will go, "Mmmm, tasty morsel". They don't think you're going to confront them and say, "Hey, wait a minute. Let me challenge you on this". They think you're a sympathetic ear. So ask them, Why are you telling me this? Question number two: Where did you get your information? Ask them that. "Where did you get identify your sources". "Well, these are really credible sources, but they don't want to be named, they want to be..." "Then don't tell me. If you can't identify your sources, don't bring it up".
Third question to ask: Have you gone directly to those involved? How few people do this, but how biblical that is to do. Matthew 18, you go directly to the person. Question number four: Have you personally checked out all the facts? Because you know the thing about facts is facts are often offset by another set of facts. And you might have bits of the truth, but are you sure you have all the facts here? The Bible says, "A fool answers a matter before he hears it". And the fifth question to ask, it's my favorite question of all: Can I quote you on this? "Oh, no, no, no. I don't want to be involved". "I'm sorry, you are involved. You just got involved and you got me involved in it". But I ask them, "Can I have your permission, can I quote you on this"? If they're responsible and mature, they will say, "Yes, you can".
So some words are hurtful. Here's the second guideline: some words are hurtful, but other words are helpful. And let's consider those. Let's consider helpful words. David includes some helpful tips on using words. Colossians, chapter 4, Paul writes, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt". In other words, filled with truth, but also filled with love, grace and salt. I believe the children of the King should use language of the court. And if we are God's children, there's helpful speech. And here's three kinds: number one, prayer, real prayer. I mean, we won't go through it again, but Psalm 140 and 141 are essentially all a prayer, but its real prayer. Look at verse 1 of Psalm 140. "Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men". That's a prayer. "Preserve me from violent men who plan evil things in their hearts; they continually gather together for war".
This is a real prayer. It only makes sense that if you are doing to open your mouth 700 times a day that at least some of those times ought to be directed upwards. Some of that speech ought to be directed to God in a real prayer. Speaking about real prayer, go down to verse 9 again. Listen to this. This is a psalm. This is in the Bible. Come on, this is Scripture, look at this: "As for the head of those who surround me, let the evil of their lips cover them. Let burning coals fall on them; let them be cast into the fire, into deep pits, that they rise not up again". That was a prayer in the Bible you just read. Why do we gloss over that? Hence is called an imprecatory psalm.
So here's what I'm getting at: I'm not saying pray gnarly prayers on everybody, but I am saying pray honest prayers. And that's how he honestly felt and he was unafraid to pour out those honest feelings before God. Doesn't mean God will answer that. God's more responsible than that. God can handle your gnarly prayers, so be honest and get it out. And I look at it like this: honest prayer is better than dishonest piety. "O Lord, I pray that you just bless them". Okay, if that's how you feel and that's what you mean, then do that. Now, God is able to sift through the rubble of even the gnarliest prayer and pick out the gems. He is still sovereign, but he can handle it, real prayer. Now part of real prayer is praise. You'll notice down in verse 13, he says, "Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence". In the next psalm, Psalm 141 verse 2, "Let my prayer be set before you as incense, the lifting of my hand as the evening sacrifice".
This now is the highest use of the tongue, praise to God. So here's the deal: when you feel the urge to use sharp words, replace it with praise. Instead of sharp words, use sanctified words. When you feel the urge to take God's name in vain, rather than that, make God's name of value. So when you do that, when you replace that urge to say something bad with something filled with praise, what you are doing is retraining your mind, what Paul calls in Romans, chapter 12, "the renewing of your mind". You're setting up new habits, new tendencies. Ephesians 5, Paul writes, "Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord". That's the reprogramming process.
So real prayer is helpful, real prayer. Number two, regular petition is helpful. If you have an issue, and in this case David's issue was his tongue, pray about that regularly. Look at verse 3. It's a great prayer, great prayer. Verse 3 of Psalm 141, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies". "Don't let me go 'mmmm,' when I hear bad reports". What a great prayer that we should pray on a regular basis. Isn't it funny, it takes two years for a person to learn how to talk, and the rest of his life to learn how to keep his mouth shut. And David is praying this: "Lord, help me with this area of my life".
And the picture is pretty cool. It's of a guard, a sentry. And a sentry, a guard was somebody who had a weapon at a gate, and he would monitor people coming in and going out. So, picture a guard at the gate of your mouth, and when a bad word wants to come out, that guard goes, "No you don't. You're not coming out. That's not going to help. That's going to be destructive. Think about that first, and send me something constructive, and I'll let that out". Wouldn't that be great? Why would he pray that? Because speaking without thinking is like shooting without aiming. It'll cause destruction and it won't be very helpful at all. James in chapter 3 of his book said, "No man can tame the tongue". What does that infer? Who's the only one who can tame it? God can tame it. He's the only one. That's the inference of the verse, "No man can tame the tongue". If that's true, and only God can do it, then ask God to help you think before you speak.
Let me take that word "think" and give it to you visually in an acronym: T-H-I-N-K. Before you say something ask:
T - Is it true? Before I say it, is this true?
H - Is this helpful?
I - Is this inspiring?
N - Is it necessary?
K - Is it kind?
Is it true? Is it helpful? Will it be inspiring? Is it really necessary? And, is it kind? If you ran your speech through that grid, you would make more friends and keep more friends than you do. The basic truth is that a closed mouth gathers no feet. I'm just waiting for that to fall on some of you to get that. Closed mouth gathers no feet. Real prayer, regular petition, third form of helpful speech: righteous rebuke. Look at verse 5 of Psalm 141. "Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. Let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil. Let not my head refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked". This is the ability to express love through tactful criticism, to warn a person. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 27, "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful".
Now who wrote these two psalms that we're reading? David, thank you. David wrote these two psalms. David would know about confrontation, would he not? For who was it that confronted him with his own sin but the prophet Nathan? When David was in his palace and he had committed adultery, and he was just sort of doing his own thing, Nathan came to him and said, "You know, there was a man who owned a lot of sheep and he took a poor man's single sheep and killed it and ate it". David got so infuriated he said, "That man must surely die". And the prophet said, "You're that man, David. You're the guy that did that". And he confronted David with his own sin. This is righteous rebuke. Oscar Wilde said, "A true friend always stabs you in the front". You've had enough people stab you in the back. A true friend will go right to your face. And that's what accountability is; it's the rubbing together of two personalities. That should bring a real accountability.
So your words can either be a balm or a bomb. They can be a B-A-L-M, soft, soothing ointment, balm; or a B-O-M-B, bomb. Are your words a balm or a bomb? Do your words encourage and build up and add worship to God and inspire, or do you discourage and gossip and shock people and criticize? Some words are hurtful, other words are helpful, finally, all words are consequential; that is, they're the consequence of something else, they stem from and originate from something else. I want you to see what it is. Look at Psalm 140 verse 2. He speaks of violent, evil men, notice, "who plan evil things in their hearts". Ah, now we're getting to the root of the problem. More than the tongue, the problem is the heart. Jesus said, "From the abundance of a heart the mouth will speak". The problem with polluted water is it comes from a polluted well. A man that has stinky cheese on his upper lip, goes everywhere, thinks the whole world smells bad.
The problem isn't the world, it's his lip. He takes the problem with him wherever he goes. So when my mom washed my mouth out with soap, it didn't cure the problem, only that day it cured the problem. But the next day and subsequent days the problem came back, because the problem wasn't in the mouth as much as it was in the heart. It's interesting when you go to a doctor, sometimes a doctor will say, "Stick out your tongue". Why? Why my tongue? Because he can tell an awful lot by looking at the texture, and color, thickness, etcetera, of your tongue. The tongue is like an outward gauge to what's going on, perhaps in some cases, inside the body. Words are like an outward gauge to tell what's going on inside of you. So a person who spews profanity, says a lot about him. If a person has to say "damn" and "hell" all the time, he may simply be describing his condition and his destination. "From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks".
It's very revealing. And, by the way, whatever is inside eventually will come out. Job had some friends that came to give him counsel. One was named Elihu who had been watching and listening to the other guys spout off. And, finally, he said these words, "For I am full of words; the spirit within me compels me. Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wineskins. I will speak that I may find relief; I must open my lips". "I gotta say this. I gotta say this". Eventually, you will say it. An angry person who holds a grudge eventually will express those feelings. A lustful person will eventually express with crude remarks what's going on inside the heart. A genuinely loving person will express those feelings also.
The old saying in the computer world: "Garbage in, garbage out". In other words, the quality of the data that is put in determines the quality of the results that comes from the data. Garbage in, garbage out. So it's time the input the computer visually and audibly with the right data. And Paul offers this advice as he closes the book of Philippians: "Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise". If you do that, you will bless far more than you will bite, you will bring balm far more than bringing a bomb into the conversation and into the relationship. Let's pray.
Lord, we know that there are certain words that are simple, but so important to say in any relationship, a simple admission of "I was wrong," or "I am so sorry," or "Please forgive me," So simple these words are, but they are soothing words. Or words like, "Great job," "We're so glad to have you," encouraging words. And then sometimes there are needful, helpful words that are confrontive or it's grace and salt mixed together. The words can sting and bite, but by their very nature they bring health and restoration. Lord, I pray you would help us, that you would set a guard over our mouth, that we could filter what we're about to say through spiritual thought, to think before we speak. Father, finally, I pray for anyone who doesn't personally know you. The most important words they could ever say is "I believe in Jesus Christ. I confess him as Lord and Savior". For you said, "If we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, we will be saved". So those become the most important words of confession a person can make.
If you're with us today and you've never honestly said that to the Lord, maybe you don't know him in a personal and dynamic manner, and maybe you're willing at this point, maybe as an act of your will cooperating with God's sovereign pull on your life, that you would say to him:
Lord, I admit that I'm a sinner and I'm sorry for my sin. I believe in Jesus Christ who died on a cross and paid the penalty for me and then rose from the dead and is alive right now. I believe in that and I believe in him. And I turn my past sin, and I turn to Jesus as my present Savior, and I want to live for him as my Lord. Help me to do that. I can't do it by myself, help me, in Jesus' name, amen.