James warns the church, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).
We read a similar warning in Isaiah: “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity” (Isaiah 58:9). The Hebrew meaning of vanity here signifies rudeness, irreverence, disrespect.
Isaiah is making an astounding statement. The very reason we pray, fast and study God’s Word is to be heard in heaven. But the Lord attaches a big “if” to this. He declares, “If you want Me to hear you on high, then you must look at your issues of the heart. Yes, I will hear you—if you quit pointing a finger at others, if you stop speaking about them disrespectfully.”
It’s a great sin in God’s eyes for us to speak in ways that tarnish someone else’s reputation. As we read in Proverbs, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). A good reputation is a treasure that is carefully built up over time. Yet I can quickly destroy anyone’s treasure with a single defaming word from my mouth.
Now, we wouldn’t dare rob somebody of his gold watch or bank account. Yet God states clearly that slandering someone’s name is robbery of the worst kind. And we can do it in the subtlest of ways: by pointing an accusing finger, questioning one’s character, passing on tidbits of gossip. Indeed, three of the most damning words we can speak are, “Have you heard?” The mere suggestion of the question robs a person of something valuable. And it defiles our own mouth.
In the story of the woman caught in adultery told in John 8, Jesus turned the accused into the accepted. Instead of rejecting the adulterous woman, whose life hung in the balance, He accepted her. And He does the same for us today. He takes everyone pushed to the margins by their own sin and tells them, “You are mine. You’re right in the center of the Father’s love.”
This gesture by Jesus was crucial for the adulterous woman. Why? Because she still had to live in her community with the reality of what she’d done. You see, while it’s true that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, there are still real- life consequences to sin. Ask any addict who’s gone through a recovery program. There are broken bonds to mend with family, friends, children, coworkers. In the case of adultery, there can be unwanted pregnancies, broken love with a spouse, strained relationships with children, betrayals of trust within a community—matters that can take years to be repaired.
That’s why there is very real mercy in Jesus’ two distinct statements to the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). I would not be a faithful minister of God if I didn’t say that while, yes, Jesus loves you, accepts you and forgives you, there is very real fallout to sin. As a pastor I see it all the time. That’s why our sin is of great concern to God beyond the moral reasons of law-breaking. Paul says, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). This is all the more reason to bring any and every sin to Jesus. Only His powerful, redeeming grace can fully heal and restore.
There is a third group transformed by God’s grace: the accusers. The Pharisees’ heartless, accusing plan backfired on them. Ultimately, the sinful woman wasn’t condemned but instead was rescued and healed. And when that kind of radical grace manifests, evil is forced to slink away in shame. “They slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman” (John 8:9).
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:33-35).
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus was addressing His disciples not long before He went to the cross. It was an incredible scene! The One who was the embodiment of God’s extravagant love for all mankind was commanding His disciples to follow Him into the depth of this love for others—particularly toward those who belonged to the household of faith. Of course, this was not a commandment solely for those present with Him at the time; the Lord is issuing this command to you and me today.
Note that the kind of love Jesus is referring to does not simply mean having affection or an affinity for one another. No, the Lord is calling His Church to be an expression of a love so deep and so far beyond our natural human ability that it will stand as an undeniable testimony of the reality of God. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things . . . endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NKJV).
Upon receiving this new commandment, the apostle Peter assumed he had the inherent ability to do what Jesus was calling them to do. He asked Jesus, “Lord, where are You going? Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward’” (John 13:36, NKJV).
In other words, Jesus was saying, “Peter, you do not have the strength now to go where I am going. You cannot love the way that I love.” We, too, must recognize this weakness in ourselves. I cannot love people the way Jesus commands me to, and neither can you. Only God has this kind of benevolent love that we need. It is only when the Holy Spirit comes upon us—when the victory of Christ becomes our victory and God’s heart becomes our heart—that we can fulfill this new commandment.
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. A strong, compassionate leader, he is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences conducted by World Challenge throughout the world.
Not long ago, a young man came forward during a prayer service at Times Square Church, shaking and crying. He told me he was from the state of Washington and that earlier that night he'd walked into our service accidentally. He had left and gone to a music concert, but then he left that event and returned to the church. Now he wanted prayer and so I asked him, "Are your parents Christians?" He answered, "Yes, sir. They keep praying for me."
I ask you: Was it an "accident" that this young man walked into our church? Hardly! He was having his own encounter with Christ. No one pushed or begged him; without question, he had been brought by Jesus. And I'm convinced it happened because of the prayers of his concerned parents.
In Mark 7:31-37 we are told the story of a deaf man being brought to Jesus. Jesus took him away from the crowd, "And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain" (Mark 7:34-35).
Jesus performed a private miracle for this man and then He spoke to him just to prove to him that he could hear. Imagine! The first voice the deaf man heard was Christ's! Oh, how that man must have talked when his tongue was loosed. Out of his mouth poured years of pent-up feelings because now he could express the inner cry that had no voice before.
I imagine him falling into the Lord's arms, weeping, "Jesus, You heard the voice of my cry" (see Psalm 5:2). Consider the poignancy and power of Psalm 5 to this healed man: "My God . . . unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee" (5:2-3). The love this man had for Jesus was now his own—because he had a personal encounter with Him.
Beloved, when you pray for your loved ones, keep in mind Jesus groans over them. He wasn't sighing over just one man in Decapolis. He was weeping over the stifled, inner cries of your children, your unsaved loved ones, and mine. Perhaps you need to change the way you pray over them. Pray that the Holy Ghost goes after them, woos and draws them, stirs and awakens them to a fresh desire for Jesus.
Paul asked the Galatian church, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Galatians 5:7-9).
Paul is referring here to a mindset, a doctrinal belief or point of theology. He is asking, "What's in your life that keeps you from going on in the full blessing of Christ? You were doing so well at one time. I know you to be a praying people, and you labor diligently to do good works, but something is wrong. I don't see you growing anymore. Instead, you've gone back to relying on your flesh. I don't sense the sweet aroma of Christ you once had. Your certainty, your clarity, your vision are all gone. Something's hindering you.
"What could have persuaded you to settle in this condition? Whatever it is, I tell you it's not of God. In fact, I sense leaven in you, a compromise of some kind. Something is clouding you, something you may be holding on to. And it's causing the Lord to have a controversy with you. Tell me, what is it?"
I know so many Christians today who once were mightily used of God. These people were devoted, praying, believing saints. But then something happened to them that somehow caused them to be hindered from experiencing the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
This includes many ministers I know. These men saw victory after victory in their walk with the Lord. But something crept into their lives, some compromise, and over time they made peace with it. Often that hindering leaven was a single besetting sin.
To all such people, Paul asks, "What happened? What's hindering the flow of Christ's blessing in your life? What leaven has crept in?"
Paul finished this passage by warning the Galatians, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).