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Language is a powerful thing. Words convey thought and they can also convey emotion. For example, when we preach the gospel, we not only want to enlighten the mind with the truth, as that’s the most important thing, but we also want to appeal to a person’s heart and encourage a response to the truth that they’ve heard. Words are to be chosen and used carefully. They can be misused. Sometimes we treat them carelessly and cheaply, but words and their meanings are extremely important.
Consider some admonitions from the word of God on this subject.
2 Timothy 1:13 “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
Knowledge and salvation come from hearing and holding to sound words. But the command to use sound words implies that there are unsound words; words that can be misused and/or misapplied.
Matthew 12:36 “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
Romans 16:18 “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
Ephesians 5:6 “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”
Words have meaning. And the way that words are used can enlighten others or deceive others. Today, we will look at some popular words in today’s religious culture that I would call religious buzzwords. A buzzword or buzz phrase is a word or phrase that becomes popular for a time. You might call it verbal shorthand that expresses some trendy idea or concept. Sometimes they accurately convey an idea, but they often become overused so as to lose their real meaning and impact. You may recognize or even use some of these religious buzzwords or buzz phrases, but do they really express the truth of God?
Managers and executives in the business world use buzzwords and buzz phrases all the time: think outside the box, losing your focus, being a team player, and so on. In 2014, the social networking site for business professionals “Linked In” released a list of buzzwords to avoid using on a resumé because they are overused and become trite and meaningless, and are often misapplied by the person filling out the resumé. Words like motivated, passionate, creative, driven, strategic, track record, organizational, expert…all of those made that list. There is nothing wrong with those words themselves; they can be truthful and constructively used. But often, they are intended to generate hype, to convey a particular sense, or to gin up emotion.
I worked for many years in television news. You hear buzzwords on the news all the time. Words and phrases like breaking news, on your side, happening right now, etc. There is nothing wrong with those phrases; they are perfectly legitimate when properly used. There IS such a thing as breaking news. Some things ARE happening as the anchor speaks. But if a news organization is not careful, those words become meaningless. They merely generate hype and evoke an emotional response, grabbing the attention of viewers and little else.
Well, what does this have to do with the gospel? Unfortunately, there are a lot of buzzwords/phrases being used in the religious world today, and just like in the other cases, they are used to generate emotion or hype. Maybe even to bias a person against a particular idea or doctrine. They are so commonly used that people repeat them without even knowing what they’re really saying.
There are words that make us cringe when we hear them today—societal buzzwords—and no one wants to be the subject of those words. Words such as racist. Racism is an evil and terrible thing. To look down upon or mistreat another person because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background is simply wrong. But isn’t that word loosely used today? If you disagree with someone else’s ideas politically, morally or religiously, and they happen to be a different color, it’s easy just to pull out that word and try to discredit the argument of the other person by accusing them of being a racist. Oh, there ARE racists in our society, but a lot of people who are accused may not be racist in the slightest. It’s a word that has been thrown at people as a pejorative in order to try to bias the conversation.
Nobody wants to be called a misogynist or xenophobe or homophobe. But just because someone believes that the roles of men and women are different respectively in the church and in the home doesn’t make a person a misogynist. Just because someone believes that Jesus is the only way to eternal salvation doesn’t mean that he has a fear of Muslims or hates Jews or Buddhists or whomever else his religious neighbors may be. Because one believes that homosexuality is a sin doesn’t mean that he is afraid or has a phobia of homosexual people, or that he hates them or wants to do them harm; he simply in all good conscience disagrees with that particular belief and practice. You see, these words have become buzzwords in our modern world to bias others against them and to discredit them and their arguments.
The same thing is true when it comes to moral and religious discussions today. The result is that many are intimidated into not remaining true to the principles of truth and faith because of a fear that these religious buzzwords will be hurled at them. Let’s consider a few of them.
Merriam-Webster defines hate as an intense hostility and diversion, usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; an extreme dislike; disgust. I think we could all think of things that we hate. This may sound like a very insignificant thing, and it is, but I hate salad. I really do. I like a lot of food, but I hate salad. I don’t hate you if you like salad, but I hate salad. I have such an intense dislike for it that if I put it in my mouth, it won’t stay there. Many people hate snakes or spiders or rats/mice. It’s not that they prefer not to be around them, as that would describe most of us. They HATE them; they have an intense, passionate dislike of them that arises out of fear or perhaps a bad experience with them. They have a very emotional reaction to those things.
Did you know that there ARE things that God hates? Some people think that the word hate should never be used in reference to anything religious, but there ARE things that God hates.
Proverbs 6:16-19 “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
The Lord hates those things, the Bible says.
Zechariah 8:17 “And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.”
The Bible word for hate has a little variation in meaning. W.E. Vines says that it means to set against; that the Lord is dislikes and is against those things. In other words, the Lord is set against sin and those who commit it. At the same time, the “golden text” of the Bible tells us what?
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God hates or is set against sin, but His love for sinners made a way for the sinner to be freed from and forgiven of his sin. The Bible tells us that just as God is set against sin, we are to be as well. We are to have the same kind of compassion and love for the sinner, and have the hope that they will turn from their sin and be saved, but we’re to hate the sin itself.
Ecclesiastes 3:8 “A time to love, and a time to hate…”
Psalm 119:163 “I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love.”
Proverbs 8:13 “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the forward (or perverse, corrupt) mouth, do I hate.”
My friend, just because a Christian disagrees—even vehemently—with a sinful doctrine, practice or lifestyle doesn’t mean that he hates the individual who is enslaved by that sin–particularly with the kind of hatred that is implied when people today equate preaching against sin with.
Jude: 22-23 “And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”
Christians are never to be hateful. We are never to harbor malice or ill will toward other people. We are never to wish harm on others because they are outside of Christ, or for any other reason. We are to extend the gospel of salvation to them in love. The gospel calls men to repentance. Believe it or not, it is an act of love to warn someone who is in the process of losing his soul that he needs to turn away from his sin so as not to face the judgment of God. The Bible surely does teach that sinners who do not repent of their sins will face the Lord’s judgment.
Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
When you call something a sin or teach that people need to repent, some will say, Oh, you’re full of hate! Unfortunately, I have known some professing Christians who ARE indeed hateful people. That’s very sad. But most Christians I know don’t hate others. They don’t hate their neighbor; they want him to be saved. We need to be careful about accusing people of hate simply because they biblically disagree with a doctrine, practice or lifestyle. It has become a buzzword today, you see.
This, too, has become a religious buzzword. In fact, a church that meets around the corner from my home has a sign in front of the building that says that it is “a judgment-free zone.” It’s not hard for me to imagine what they stand for and don’t stand for. Christians who believe the Bible is the word of God and that it forbids certain behaviors are often accused of being what? Judgmental. And the word judge has become anathema. It has such a stigma attached to it in our modern society—our postmodern society, I might add—that no one wants to be accused of passing judgment on another person lest they be accused of hate or bigotry. Usually the verse that folks will point to is Matthew 7:1. Even people who rarely if ever quote scripture or point to the Bible as the authority on anything will have this scripture at the ready on the tip of their tongues.
Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
They’ll say, See there! You’re wrong for judging the lifestyle, behavior, or belief of another person. But, was Jesus saying that it was wrong for His followers to judge between right and wrong? To discern between righteousness and unrighteousness? Should we be ashamed of being accused of judging the belief or behavior of other people? It sure sounds bad, doesn’t it?
It sounds bad because the word judge has become a modern buzzword. The truth is, exercising discernment and judgment is only something to be ashamed of if we fail to judge our own beliefs and behaviors in the process. You see, what Jesus is warning against is not judgment in totality; He is warning against a false and hypocritical judgment. Judging others for the same faults that we ourselves possess. He continues in the very next verses:
Matthew 7:2-5 “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Notice: Jesus doesn’t say that it’s wrong to help get the speck out of your brother’s eye. But He says you must first remove the beam from your own. Don’t be a hypocrite. Jesus isn’t telling us not to discern the difference between right and wrong, nor is He forbidding a concerned and sincere believer from pointing out sin in another person. In fact, the Bible even commands us to do that on occasion. He is saying we are to do so on the basis that we have inspected our own life. We are to make such judgments with humility and self-introspection. He goes on to say this:
Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
How are we to obey what Jesus says here if this doesn’t involve some discernment and some judging between one who is worthy and one who is unworthy? Rather, the Lord says this:
John 7:24 “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
There IS such a thing as making righteous judgments of others, and those are judgments that are made from a sincere heart, out of pure motive, according to the truth, and in love for the offender. That leads us to number three.
You probably hear this word bantered about by more religiously-inclined people toward those who are insistent on obedience to scripture or a stricter interpretation of the word of God than what that person employs. Since we know that perhaps the Lord’s fiercest critics and most ferocious enemies were the Pharisees of His time, it stings when someone points at us and calls us a Pharisee. No one wants to be considered a Pharisee! Again, it is a word that is often used to gin up emotion and bias people against a person or group of people and what they teach. Really, who were the Pharisees? Do modern Pharisees exist?
Historically, Pharisees were a sect of the Jews who became prominent during the second century B.C., during the intertestamental period. They, along with the opposing Sadducees, constituted the ruling class of Israel. The Aramaic word for Pharisee means to separate. While the Sadducees were more of a worldly, political sect, the Pharisees were more concerned with religious matters. As their name suggests, they focused more on the separation of the Jews from all non-Jewish aspects of society.
One of the hallmarks of the Pharisees was that even though they viewed the Old Testament scriptures as being inspired of God and authoritative (so they claimed), the problem is that they gave equal credence to oral tradition that was passed down from their elders. Does that sound familiar? In fact, in many cases, they gave MORE credence to these oral traditions that were not based in scripture at all. While they claimed to respect the word of God, they ignored it if their traditions came into conflict with it.
Another hallmark of the Pharisees is that they did not respect the principles of righteousness behind the law, but merely only focused on the external performance of the commandment. Also, they failed to live according to their own teachings; they were hypocrites. One of Jesus’ most stinging rebukes is when He was speaking of the scribes and Pharisees:
Matthew 23:3 “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”
There is the Lord’s complaint. That’s one of their problems.
Matthew 23:4 “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
These were their traditions—not what the law said.
Matthew 23:5 “But all their works they do for to be seen of men…”
You see their motive in all of this? Be very careful about accusing someone of being like that. You don’t know people’s hearts. Sometimes, it will evident by the fruit in their lives, but be very careful how you use words of accusation. Did Jesus condemn the Pharisees for insisting on keeping the commandments and directives of scripture? That’s an important question. The answer to it is, NO. A thousand times, NO. His complaint against the Pharisees was their human traditions supplanting the scriptures, and their hypocrisy in not keeping the law that they insisted others keep. The Pharisees were not upholding the law of God; they were upholding a human religion that contained parts of the law of God where it suited them.
You’ll find people like the Pharisees in religion today, widespread. In fact, the denominational world is full of human traditions that are valued and followed as much or more than—and in many cases, in place of—what the Bible says. You’ll find many people who go through the form and outward show of religion whose hearts are not truly given over to God. But, listen: insisting on obedience to the Bible, insisting on doing Bible things in Bible ways and calling Bible things by Bible names is NOT being a Pharisee. Insisting that one be baptized in obedience to Christ’s command to be saved is NOT Pharisaic. For Jesus Himself said:
Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Insisting that the church worship like the apostles instructed the early church to do is NOT being a Pharisee. The inspired apostle Paul said:
1 Corinthians 11:2 “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
We’re told to follow the Bible.
John 4:24 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
It is NOT Pharisaic to insist that Christians live clean, holy and godly lives and be separate from the world in thought and action.
Romans 12:2 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
It is when people preach the doctrines of men and lead hypocritical lives, seeking the praise of men instead of the praise of God that they become as the Pharisee that Jesus condemned so long ago.
Yes, so often, the conversation about very important matters of godliness and righteousness, spiritual life and spiritual death, is tainted and poisoned by buzzwords.
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