April 11, 2020

Speak No Evil (The Armor, part 15)

“If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” Countless parents have given this sound advice to their children over the years, but judging by what we hear people saying on TV, on the radio, in movies, and perhaps most appallingly on social media, the advice seems to have gone largely unheeded. Vile words have always been a problem. Paul’s advice to first century Christians sounded much like the timeless parental wisdom quoted above…

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Many Christians grow weary of the seemingly endless stream of profanity that surrounds us today, but the problem goes far deeper than “the F-bomb” and other words which have been singled out as taboo. While vulgar words are certainly things which a Christian should seek to eliminate from one’s own personal vocabulary, the use of otherwise polite language to demean, discredit, or destroy another person is a far more dangerous corruption of the tongue.

Image by ArtCoreStudios from Pixabay 
Let us once again consider the Helmet of Salvation, as represented by a first century Roman soldier’s gear. There is some evidence which suggests that the helmets worn by legionnaires were considerably less standardized than other pieces of equipment. Assuming that to be true, one can imagine that some soldiers would opt for helmets which would provide greater degrees of protection for the head and face. Almost certainly, the original readers of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians would have been familiar with various styles of helmets, including full-face models.

You’ve undoubtedly heard someone speak with their mouth covered. The sound is muffled, and it can be quite difficult to understand what’s being said. This would certainly be true of a soldier wearing a full-faced helmet, but we know that God would not want us to deliver muffled, hard-to-hear messages to the world around us. So how does the Helmet of Salvation affect our speech once we have put it on? The answer, as always, is found in scripture…

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
~Psalm 34:13 (ESV)

Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].

One would also do well to consider the words of James concerning the tongue’s power (James 3:1-12). The words we speak are more than simply a reflection of what’s in our hearts: they reinforce what’s there and set us more firmly on the course we are traveling. Putting on the Helm of Salvation may be an easily-defined endeavor, but actually doing it, according to James, is exceedingly difficult. How easy it is to let slip a profane word in a moment of anger! How easily we gossip about others when we see them in error!

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
~James 3:2 (ESV)

Image by ArtCoreStudios from Pixabay 
Each piece of the Armor of God overlaps in some way with other pieces. In this case, it is easy to see how the Helmet of Salvation and the Breastplate of Righteousness share some territory with regard to controlling our mouths: both have to do with our actions and their spiritual outcomes. While the Breastplate focuses on the consequences we encounter from our own actions, the Helmet’s concern is with how our words affect others. The Bible singles out the tongue as a particularly important indicator of our spiritual condition and the direction we are going, and also as the means by which we influence other people, either for good or for bad.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…

Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
~James 3:10 (NKJV)

Gossip, slander, and judgmental attitudes are all types of speech which tear down other people. Note that Paul, in the 4th chapter of Ephesians, urges believers to build each other up with their words (a sentiment he repeats in 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are to congratulate others on their successes and comfort them in their times of need.

We must also recognize that building up another person means speaking truth. Sometimes correction is necessary. Sometimes a rebuke, though painful, is the best way to help someone grow.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Rather than muffling our voices, it seems that the Helmet of Salvation is nothing less than the loudspeaker of the Whole Armor of God. We are to speak of the truth of Christ as lord and savior (the Belt of Truth). We are to speak of the righteousness of God through Christ (the Breastplate of Righteousness). We are to proclaim the good news, the gospel of peace (the Boots of Preparation). We are to speak of the power of faith and God’s faithfulness (the Shield of Faith). We are to speak the Word of God to all who will hear it (the Sword of the Spirit). When you put on the Helm of Salvation, you find your voice.

We all see and hear too much negativity and hate-filled speech on a daily basis. In these uncertain, divided, angry times, perhaps we would all do well to heed the advice our parents gave us when we were children. In a world where so much that is spoken is bad, say something good.


The Final Cut (The Armor, part 18)

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