Sermon 05-07-2023: “Treasuring Christ With Our Tongues”

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:18-25

Today is Part 4 of our sermon series in 1 Peter. And today I’m talking about our words. Or what the Bible often refers to as “the tongue.” Just know that it also means the words that we tap on smartphones as well, not just the words we speak. Our words reveal a lot about how much we treasure Christ. Indeed, our words bear witness to the world about how much we treasure Christ. That’s what this sermon is about. And I want to make three points along these lines. Point Number One: I want to talk about the subtle danger of the words that we use; otherwise known as “sins of the tongue.” Point Number Two: I want to apply this lesson to our local church. And Point Number Three, I want to talk about the remedy to “sins of the tongue” that we find in today’s scripture.

Point Number One: the subtle danger of “sins of the tongue.”

Let me begin by reminding you of a song that most of you know…

In fact, I’m not sure how it happened, but recently, my family and I were in the car together, listening to Kenny Rogers’ classic song, “Coward of the County”—about a son whose dad—a violent criminal—dies in prison. And before he dies, he says, “Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done. Walk away from trouble if you can. It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek. I hope you’re old enough to understand. Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.”

“It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek.” That’s an understatement! Because of our sinful human nature, we find “turning the other cheek” incredibly difficult. Retaliation is easy. We are a people who like to retaliate!

Including Peter!

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, all four gospels report that one of Jesus’ disciples drew his sword and struck the right ear of one of the men who came to arrest Jesus—his name was Malchus, the servant of the high priest. But John’s gospel tells us the identity of this sword-wielding disciple… and wouldn’t you know it, it’s Peter. 1 Of course it’s Peter!

But Peter had been with Jesus for three years at this point! Why didn’t he know by now that Jesus didn’t want his disciples to lash out at others, to retaliate against them, to seek vengeance. After all, Peter was there when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 2

One commentator I read said that the kind of sword that Peter would have been carrying was a Roman sword, which was small enough that you could conceal it inside your cloak. This commentator said that this sword wasn’t for slicing; it was for stabbing. Peter likely tried to stab this servant—to kill him—and he missed… and cut off his ear instead. Peter tried to use deadly force against this man.

So much for Jesus’ words, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Peter was all about resisting evil people.

And we are not so different from Peter!

Except… here’s the thing… we Christians don’t often use swords or other physical weapons. We use words as our deadly dangerous weapon of choice instead. It’s legal to use words, after all. We’re not going to get arrested for using words! In fact, on social media, wielding words as weapons often get us more followers; on cable news, it gets us higher ratings.

And even as I say this, some of you are like, “Words don’t count as deadly dangerous weapons.”

Oh, yes they do! In God’s eyes they do!

Jesus certainly thought so. That’s why in Matthew chapter 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, he says the following.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” 3

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s telling us that anger towards others, which usually spills over into insults and gossip and abusive language, is on the same spectrum as murder itself. When we use our tongues to hurt others, to inflict pain—because we’re mad at them, because they’ve hurt us, and we believe they deserve it—we’re committing murder, in a spiritual sense; we’re breaking the sixth commandment.

And I alluded to this scripture last week, but Jesus’ half-brother James puts it like this. Referring to the the tongue—the words that come out of our mouths, or the words that we often tap on our smartphones—James says this:

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 4

Time prevents me from showing you the dangers of the tongue that books like Exodus and Numbers document—or the many warnings against sins of the tongue in the Book of Proverbs. Or in prophets like Jeremiah… 

Words are a deadly dangerous weapon… And like Peter wielding his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, we often wield our words to lash out at others!

Why am I talking about sins of the tongue

Because Peter is talking about sins of the tongue in today’s scripture. Let me explain.

Our scripture begins: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” 

These “servants” to whom Peter refers were literally slaves. Some English translations use that word. The problem is, when we modern people hear that word, we immediately think of the British and American experience of slavery in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. That’s not what this was. It was more like what we would call “indentured servitude.” It was usually voluntary. If you had debts you couldn’t pay, you would sell yourself into slavery for a limited amount of time. You earned wages, and you paid your master back. The slaves Peter mentions here would often be well-educated and had great responsibility: they might be doctors, tutors, accountants, managers of large estates. 

But let’s not minimize it: it was still slavery. Slaves were at the mercy of their masters. They could be badly mistreated and no one could do anything about it. In fact, Peter is writing during a time of great persecution of Christians. Many pagans were already afraid of Christians, and if pagan masters found out that their slaves converted to this strange new religion, well… it could mean great persecution and suffering for these enslaved Christians.

Peter knows this. And if persecution and suffering come, what are these enslaved Christians supposed to do? Peter says they are supposed to endure it—not out of cowardice or fear, but for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who also suffered unjustly—in order to save the lost. 

God loves even slaveholders and wants to save them too. And these Christians who are slaves can be used by God to do that. 

I want us to notice verses 22 and 23. Peter concedes that these enslaved Christians are often suffering unjustly, and he compares their unjust suffering with Jesus’ unjust suffering. And he says the following about Jesus: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Notice the specific sins that Peter says Jesus didn’t commit—even as he suffered unjustly: There was no “deceit found”—where? “in his mouth”… He did not “revile in return.” Revile: that is, “criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner.” Also, he did not “threaten.” Notice that all three of these potential sins that Jesus was tempted to commit, but didn’t, were sins of the tongue. And Peter knows that virtually the only way that these enslaved Christians can hurt their masters—since they had no ability to change their status as slaves; they had no ability to overthrow or make illegal the institution of slavery… Peter knows the only way they can inflict harm to their masters was through the words they spoke.

Or… even if their words are unable to harm their masters directly, at least these Christians would feel better when they gossiped about their masters and judged them and complained about them to their brothers and sisters at church! It feels good to lash out with words against people who hurt us. We’re often not strong enough to “turn the other cheek.”

When I was in my early twenties I was in sales at AT&T. This was my first “real job” out of college. And believe it or not, we salespeople sometimes had difficult customers. When we salespeople got together, over lunch or wherever, our favorite topic of conversation was to complain about difficult customers. To gossip about them, to judge them, to presume to know with certainty the precise manner of evil that lurked inside their hearts, which motivated them to be the incompetent jerks that we knew they were.

That’s the very definition of the sinful kind of judging that Jesus warns against: when we believe that we know for certain why people do what they do—and instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt, we interpret their actions in the least favorable light.

Well, that’s what we salespeople at AT&T used to do. 

And what’s the harm? It was just us salespeople; we weren’t talking directly to our customers. It made us feel good to complain about these jerks. We felt good judging them and putting them down and insulting them… We felt righteous! And it’s not like the customers themselves would ever hear those words that we spoke! 

But listen… My mentor was a dear friend and fellow Christian named Don Ballance. He refused to participate in these conversations. With great wisdom, he told me, “If I put into words my angry feelings about my customers, I worry that, sooner or later, it’s going to affect the way I treat them. My angry words are going to spill over into my actions. My words will make worse the way I think about them. And that will change how I act toward them. And obviously my relationship with them will only get worse. So I try not to talk about them like that.”

Well, this is the apostle James’s point about the sins of the tongue: He compares the tongue to the tiny rudder of a large ship… This tiny thing, he says, has the power to steer the course of this vessel… in the exact same way that our tongues have the power to steer the course of our entire lives—for better or—often—for worse! How desperately we need to tame our tongues.

Besides, if we want to “talk” about our enemies, Jesus says, let’s talk about them in prayer, as we lift them up before God our Father and ask him to bless them, to heal them… to give them whatever they need… to fix whatever is broken in our relationship with them. More than a few Christians have found that it’s nearly impossible hate enemies that we also pray for!

And that’s Point Number One: the subtle danger of our words… sins of the tongue.

Point Number Two: How this applies to our local church…

And I want to begin confessing my own sin. Over the past couple of years, I have been angry far too often about events in our United Methodist Church over which I have no control. A couple of weeks ago, most of y’all saw the front-page article in the Record. After the disaffiliation process of 2553 was “paused indefinitely,” our church voted to join with 185 other churches in our conference in a lawsuit. 

And if you disagree with our church’s action, that’s perfectly okay with me… so long as you can accept that your brothers and sisters who voted to join the lawsuit did so in good faith.

I did not attend the meeting at which the vote was taken. And I would have abstained if I were there.

As most of you know, I support our current United Methodist Book of Discipline. I believe our denomination would be making a tragic mistake to change or ignore our current Discipline—which I believe best reflects the truth of God’s Word, including God’s will for marriage, for singleness, and for ordination to pastoral ministry. I’ve said that before. 

But what our local church does or doesn’t do in response to potential changes to the Discipline is not my decision to make—and Christians of good will may disagree with one another, and that’s perfectly okay.

My point is, too often over these past couple of years, I have given in to anger, and I have spoken angry, judgmental, and insulting words about the people whom God put in authority over us in our North Georgia Conference and in our United Methodist Church.

And I’m not alone. Many of us here have sinned with our tongues when it comes to this divisive issue with which all United Methodist churches are struggling. 

Our words, and the anger that gives rise to them, have harmed us, spiritually. Period. 

And I could be wrong, but I worry that they’ve harmed our community… even indirectly… because they have impeded our witness… they have distracted us from our mission… they have sapped us of energy we need to love and reach out to our community… And I worry that people outside of our church have noticed.

Whatever our future as a church holds, the First Methodist church that meets at 333 East Tugalo Street will continue to be a church that loves our community… including anyone who identifies as LGBTQ… 

In a way, our church’s critics are right…Our church is not inclusive enough. Unless or until we share a burning passion to include more of the 10,000-plus in our community this morning who aren’t in church right now, including many LGBTQ people, how can we believe that we’re inclusive enough?

We can talk about “inclusion” all day long, but if we’re not “including” neighbors outside of our church by inviting them to church… if we’re not going out into the community to rescue the “lost sheep” we find there with the gospel of Jesus Christ… if we’re not helping people outside of our church to “treasure Christ above all”… then all this talk about “inclusion” is academic. 

I want us to be a far more inclusive church! And I certainly don’t want us to be an angry church! Inasmuch as I have given in to anger and sinned by using destructive words, I am sorry, and I repent. And if this applies to you, please do the same.

I know our church does a hundred-and-one things to help this community to “treasure Christ above all.” I have a few ideas about things we can do that I feel convicted to share with you. First, we have an elementary school catty-corner to our church… And this upcoming week is Teacher Appreciation Week. Wouldn’t it have been nice if volunteers from our church prepared a meal or a snack or offered some gift of encouragement to our teachers. What if we did something for them for pre-planning in late summer? What if we “adopted” the school in some way, even unofficially, or partnered with them. I’m sure there are plenty of volunteer opportunities there… plenty of opportunities to serve.

As a matter of fact, I already reached out to the principal. And we’re bringing teachers pizza on Friday. I hope that’s okay.

Or what about the National Guard Armory… right behind our church. We used to sponsor a breakfast for them on Saturday mornings. I went to a couple of them in 2019 and early 2020. I think it got canceled with Covid, but maybe we can do something like that again. Dave Schreiber and I have reached out to the staff sergeants there. I spoke with one of them on Friday, in fact, and we will be serving the troops breakfast on Saturday, July 15.

Or what about our police down the street? What about our firefighters? What about first-responders? How can we love and support them and help them treasure Christ?

And I’m sure you have your own ideas. My point is, nothing related to potential disaffiliation, including this lawsuit—in our church, our conference, or our denomination—should impede our efforts to fulfill our church’s vision to help ourselves and others “treasure Christ above all.”

I’m going to all in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen! I see the danger more clearly than I did before.

So… Point Number Three… I’m tempted to say, “We’re done with angry, hurtful, insulting sins of the tongue. We’re not going to sin in this way anymore.” But talk is cheap… Resolutions don’t work… We need to be healed of whatever it is within us that causes us to “stab at” other people with hurtful, destructive words.

I said earlier that Peter is addressing slaves in today’s scripture. These slaves had no power to change the fact that they were slaves. They felt powerless; they felt stuck. And similarly, we also may feel powerless over some problem in our life; we may feel stuck in some harmful, hurtful situation… And when we do, we blame that person or those people over there for our problems… And that’s often when we’re tempted to sin with our tongues.

But notice verse 25: Peter quotes Isaiah 53:6 and reminds us of one important metaphor of our relationship with God. There are many other metaphors, but this is one important one… We are sheep, and he is our Good Shepherd.

If I am like a sheep, and Christ is my Good Shepherd, what do I really know about what’s best for me? Sheep, after all, are famously dumb animals—they walk off cliffs, they get lost, get separated from the flock, they put themselves in harm’s way, they make really bad decisions all the time. It would be incredibly presumptuous for a sheep to second-guess their good shepherd, to dictate to the shepherd what’s best for them, the sheep. 

And yet, how often—when I’m upset, angry, filled with self-pity because I’m not getting what I think I deserve, or I’m being mistreated—how often am I tempted to do the same thing?

I need to hear this promise: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” That’s what Christ our Good Shepherd does for us!

In Acts chapter 5, Peter himself—the same man who, just months earlier, lashed out in anger at poor Malchus and nearly killed him… Peter found himself, once again, in “the valley of the shadow of death.” He and John had been arrested for the second time by the local government—for preaching the gospel. They were arrested and tried… unjustly… They were beaten… unjustly… before they were released. 

But what happened to them was wrong! They were badly mistreated! They suffered unjustly!

And yet… Acts 5, verse 41, tells us that Peter, alongside John, rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

“Counted worthy” by whom? By Christ their Good Shepherd… Peter now understood that everything that was happening to him was part of Christ the Good Shepherd’s plan for  his life. And he trusted that that plan would be for Peter’s ultimate good… and for the good of others… and for God’s glory.

Unlike in Gethsemane a few months earlier, Peter now trusted that the Good Shepherd who brought him into this “valley of the shadow of death” in the first place was also going to lead him through it.

Christ our Good Shepherd will also always do the same for us! 

Now let me conclude by telling you about an English woman named “Eleanor Rigby.” Have you heard of her? She is the subject of a song that Paul McCartney wrote and sang with the Beatles in 1966. When I first heard this song in 1981, at age 11, it struck me as the saddest song I’d ever heard! Many of you know it.

The song concerns two “lonely” people: Rigby, a churchgoing woman, a spinster, who spends her life volunteering at the church, working for the church with little fanfare. No one notices her. She is alone. And when she dies, Paul tells us, no one even attends her funeral. Except for Father McKenzie, the pastor of the church who, Paul says, is “writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.” I feel like I’ve done that a few times in my pastoral career, believe me! “All the lonely people/ Where do they all come from?/ All the lonely people/ Where do they all belong?”

Sad song…

But not so fast… Suppose Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie have discovered—as I want all of you to discover—that Christ is their greatest treasure. If so, who else do they need in order to be happy? What else do they need to be satisfied? Certainly not an audience to love and praise and appreciate them! 

For one thing, they already have an audience—God is there, the Lord Jesus is there, along with his angels who surround them. They’re not alone. 

For another thing, since Rigby and McKenzie are doing these works without a human audience, how is God not especially glorified? Remember Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”? 5

When we treasure Christ above all, literally no one and nothing has the power to rob us of our treasure. That’s true for Peter… 

Even if, in the Garden of Gethsemane… even if worst came to worst… even if Peter had been arrested and crucified next to Jesus the next day… what would Peter have lost? 

Nothing at all. Because no one in this world, certainly not poor Malchus, whose ear Peter chopped off, had the power to rob him of his treasure in Christ.So why did Peter have to stab at him with this weapon? He didn’t.

In fact, if worst came to worst, Peter would gain everything! Because he would gain infinitely more of what he treasured most… because he would get to experience the Lord in all his fullness in heaven!

And that’s if worst came to worst. It’s not a bad deal, you’ve got to admit!

If we treasure Christ our Good Shepherd, and we find ourselves in the “valley of the shadow of death”—as we often will—we simply don’t need to lash out and “stab at” others with the deadly weapon of our tongue. Because Christ our Good Shepherd brought us to this place; he’s leading us through it; and he is taking care of us. We’re not helpless; we’re not powerless; we’re not stuck… We may be weak, of course… But when we are weak, the Bible says that’s precisely when we are at our strongest. Because we have the power of almighty God, the Holy Spirit, working through us! “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” 


  1.  See John 18:10-11.
  2.  Matthew 5:38-39 ESV
  3. Matthew 5:22 NLT
  4.  James 3:5b-10 NLT
  5.  Matthew 6:4, 6, 18

One thought on “Sermon 05-07-2023: “Treasuring Christ With Our Tongues””

  1. Good sermon, Brent! I do have one small caveat. With respect to the possible split from the UMC, I don’t think it is wrong to point out the theological error of the UMC and lament their choice to follow current societal norms versus biblical doctrine. “There must needs be divisions among you, that those who are in the right may be approved.” (Rough paraphrase.) I would agree that we shouldn’t “call them names,” but at the same time consider all the prophets of old standing up to those who opposed God’s ways and even “calling down judgment” upon them. So, to use an old and overused expression, we shouldn’t “throw out the baby with the bath water” when it comes to “denominational disputes” as far as what we “say.”

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