A Timeless Text

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Have you ever read the Bible and felt that the places, people, and events it describes are hopelessly foreign? That is understandable. The Bible was written by different people in a different place at a different time. Attempts to modernise Bible stories often sound almost comical.

For example, when the Living Bible reads that Joshua sent spies “to cross the river and check out the situation on the other side” and that the king of Jericho, having been informed of the spies’ arrival, “dispatched a police squadron to Rahab’s home,” it sounds unnaturally modern to our ears. The land of the Old Testament was a different place governed by different laws and customs. It sometimes takes hard work to understand those customs as we seek to make sense of the text.

But there are times when Scripture seems immediately timeless. Psalm 52 is one such strikingly contemporary text. Listen: “Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue” (vv. 2–4).

Are we not surrounded even today by those whose tongues “plot destruction” and who “love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right”? Do words not still devour? Commenting on this psalm, C. S. Lewis writes, “No historical readjustments are here required, we are in the world we know.”

There are few, if any, sins that the biblical Wisdom Literature highlights more than sinful speech. The human tongue is indeed a raging, deadly fire, set alight by hell. Consider how the Scriptures highlight the sinfulness of the tongue in ways that appear so astonishingly contemporary.

Do we not still struggle with the sin of flattery? “A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5). Do we not battle the sin of lying? “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22). What about gossip and slander? “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 18:8). Do angry words not still plague us? “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Is boasting not a perennial problem? “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:1–2).

Sadly, sins of the tongue are not the exclusive domain of the unbelieving world. Christians struggle with the tongue as much as non-Christians. But Christians have no excuse to use their tongue in a destructive manner. David warns, “God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living” (v. 5). By contrast, we who “trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever” (v. 8) should be characterised by God-honouring speech.

Christian speech is controlled speech. “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23). Christian words are words of integrity. “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19). Christian talk edifies. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 13:14). Christian rebuke corrects rather than denigrates. “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue” (Proverbs 28:23).

As you head into a new day, and a new week, commit before God that you will guard your tongue. Realise the timelessness of this text and use your words in a way that honours God and edifies people.

Stuart