"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
"Those who receive the gospel, and are enlightened by the Spirit of God, see more of God's wisdom and power in the doctrine of Christ crucified, than in all his other works." -- Matthew Henry (1662-1714) (Ref. 1, Ref. 2)
This lesson describes what the Apostle Paul meant by the phrase, "the word of the cross." God loves us so much that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, and purchased the forgiveness of our sins. We will also study why for some people, the word of the cross is foolishness and for others, it is the power of God.
Consider. When the Apostle Paul wrote the phrase, "the word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18), what did he mean? In your own words, how would you explain "the word of the cross" to someone else?
Definition of "word." The Greek word for word in 1 Corinthians 1:18 is logos. Logos means something said, a message, reasoning expressed by words, and instruction (Ref. 3). Acts 13:26 and 2 Corinthians 5:19 provide examples where logos is translated as message.
Definition of "cross." The Greek word for cross is staurós. Staurós has both a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. Christ was crucified on a literal Roman cross (Ref. 4). According to HELPS Word-Studies, "Staurós was the crosspiece of a Roman cross; the cross-beam was placed at the top of the vertical member to form a capital 'T' (Ref. 4). "This transverse beam was the one carried by the criminal" (Ref. 4, Matthew 27:31-32, John 19:17). In addition to the shape of a capital "T," researchers also discuss the cross in the shape of a cruciform ("†" or "✚") and as a vertical stake (Ref. 5). Most Christian denominations present the Christian cross in the shape of a cruciform (Ref. 5, Ref. 6).
Staurós also has a figurative meaning. Jesus spoke about the cross each believer bears to be his true follower (Ref. 4, Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Thayer's Greek Lexicon describes the figurative cross as an expression used by "those who, on behalf of God's cause, do not hesitate cheerfully and manfully [courageously] to bear persecutions, troubles, distresses — thus recalling the fate of Christ and the spirit in which he encountered it" (Ref. 4, brackets added).
What is meant by the expression, "the word of the cross"? The word, or message, of the cross is that God loves us so much that his Son, Jesus Christ, was crucified and died on the cross for us. Through his sacrifice, Jesus Christ has purchased the forgiveness of our sins. Through Jesus Christ, those who believe in him receive salvation and eternal life.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Foolishness to those who are perishing. The Greek word for foolishness is mória. Mória means folly, absurdity, foolishness (Ref. 7). The Greek word for perish is apollumi which means destroy utterly (Ref. 8). HELPS Word-Studies further defines apollumi as "to die, with the implication of ruin and destruction" (Ref. 8).
Why would Paul write that the message of the cross "is foolishness to those who are perishing" in 1 Corinthians 1:18?
1. "To the Jews 'the cross' was the tree of shame and horror; and a crucified person was 'accursed of God' " (Ref. 9, Deuteronomy 21:23). To the Jews, the thought of "a crucified Messiah" seemed "a revolting folly" (Ref. 9).
2. To Paul's Greek audience, the cross was the punishment for slaves and murderers (Ref. 9). The cross meant shame and agony. To the Greeks, worshiping "a crucified malefactor" was superstitious (Ref. 9).
3. Paul explains, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural man, who is "not truly enlightened and renewed by the Word and Spirit of God, and therefore has no other way of obtaining knowledge but by his senses and natural understanding … does not understand or apprehend the things of the Spirit of God" (Ref. 10).
To us who are being saved it is the power of God. The Greek word for saved is sózó, which means rescued from destruction and brought into divine safety (Ref. 11). The Greek word for power in 1 Corinthians 1:18 is dunamis. Dunamis means (miraculous) power, might, strength (Ref. 12).
The cross is much more than a decoration. "The cross is God's saving power" (Expositor's Greek Testament, Ref. 13). For us who are being saved, the cross is the means by which Jesus has forgiven our sins and rescued us from the path of destruction. By the cross, God offers us the gift of eternal life when we believe in Jesus Christ, God's Son. When we share the "word of the cross" with others, we share not a fable but God's mighty plan for saving people.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
Apply. God gives us only two choices. Either we are on the path of perishing or we are on the path of salvation. On which path are you? If you do not know Christ, put your faith in him today, and receive from him forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life. If you do know Christ, thank him for his sacrificial death on the cross to forgive your sins, and for his power working in you each day.
5. (Ref. 5 begins on the next line)
"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak." (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7)
"Speak little, because for one sin which we may commit by keeping silence where it would be well to speak, we commit a hundred by speaking upon all occasions" (Pinart, Ref. 1).
This lesson is the fourth and final lesson in the series on Biblical Principles of Sound Speech.
Consider. What times or examples can you think of where the Bible says we should be silent instead of speaking?
When circumstances demand. "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7). In Ecclesiastes 3:7, the Hebrew word for silent is chashah, which means to hush, keep quiet, hold peace, keep silence, be silent, be still (Ref. 2).
English Theologian John Gill (1697 - 1771) (Ref. 3, Ref. 4) described three circumstances when we should be silent:
1. During an evil time or a time of national calamity (Amos 5:10-13)
2. To express sympathy - "When a particular friend or relation is in distress, as in the case of Job and his friends" (Ref. 4, Job 2:13). Note that Job's friends showed support for Job by visiting Job and sitting with him silently for seven days. Sitting on the ground "marked mourning" (Ref. 5, Lamentations 2:10). "Seven days was the usual length of it" (Ref. 5, Genesis 50:10, 1 Samuel 31:13).
3. "When in the presence of wicked men, who make a jest of everything serious and religious" (Ref. 4, Psalm 39:1)
To listen to God. "Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
To respect God and to be in awe of God. The prophet Habakkuk said, "The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20). Habakkuk was comparing the profit-less act of speaking to false idols with the reverential awe we should have for the living, true God (Habakkuk 2:18-19).
To guard our soul from troubles. "He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles" (Proverbs 21:23).
To avoid transgression. "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (Proverbs 10:19). "Loquacity leads to exaggeration and untruthfulness, slander, and uncharitableness" (Ref. 1).
When we're feeling angry. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice" (Ephesians 4:31). "Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).
To be counted as wise. "He who restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent" (Proverbs 17:27-28, italics added). When I was a youth, my father quoted this saying to me - "It is better to keep silent and have people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Researchers disagree whether to attribute this quote to American author Mark Twain or to President Abraham Lincoln, or to someone else. However, the concept is clear.
Apply. Think about this topic. In what personal situations or circumstances would it be better for you to remain silent instead of speaking?
"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man" (Matthew 15:18).
Today's lesson is the third in a series on Biblical Principles of Sound Speech.
Consider. Think for a moment. Do you agree with Jesus' statement in Matthew 15:18 that what we say comes from what is in our heart?
Read - Matthew 15:1-20. This passage will provide the context for today's lesson.
What we say defiles us in God's sight. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 15:1-20, Jesus was speaking to people who did not (yet) believe in him or accept his authority. The concept of the relationship between our heart and our mouth still applies to us today as believers in Christ and also applies to non-believers. What we take into our hearts, or allow into our hearts, determines the quality of our speech.
Jesus turned the discussion from handwashing (Matthew 15:2) to the more important subject of being clean in our hearts, speech, and thinking. "After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, 'Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man' " (Matthew 15:10-11). The Greek word for defile is koinoó, which means unclean, pollute, or desecrate (Ref. 1). "Jesus replaced the normal Jewish understandings of defilement with the truth that defilement comes from an impure heart, not the violation of external rules" (Ref. 2 below).
In Matthew 15:11 and Matthew 15:18, the Greek word for man is anthrópos, which is the generic term for mankind; the human race; people, including women and men (Ref. 3).
Our heart is the source of the evil and the good we speak. When Jesus spoke about the heart of man in Matthew 15:15-20, he spoke a concept that was familiar to his Jewish listeners. The Hebrew word for heart is leb, which means inner man, mind, will, heart (Ref. 4). The Hebrew word, leb (heart), occurs over 500 times in the Old Testament (Ref. 4). The prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).
In the New Testament, the Greek word for heart in Matthew 15:18 and in almost all New Testament occurrences is kardia (Ref. 5). Kardia occurs over 150 times in the New Testament (Ref. 5). Kardia means the heart; mind, character, inner self, will, intention (Ref. 5). In Matthew 15:18, Jesus is saying that the evil that comes out of our mouth comes from what is in our heart.
Jesus also said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Luke 6:45).
Below I have included a "HIPO" (Hierarchical Input Process Output) chart that I prepared many years ago when I first taught this lesson on Sound Speech to my Adult Sunday School class at church. At the time, I was working as a computer programmer for a large company. The chart illustrates examples of healthy and unhealthy inputs we take into our hearts. Our senses also can influence our heart. Our mouths are our primary output device (Matthew 15:11, 18). In today's culture, with texting, tweeting, instant messaging, and email, we should include our "fingers" as output devices as well. The concept still applies.
It is important to guard what we take into our heart. The purity of what we take into or allow into our heart affects the quality of what we say. As per the examples in Figure 1 above, we need to be careful about our entertainment choices and being around unwholesome speech because these can contaminate our thinking.
The apostle Paul was quite clear when he described what we should think about. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8, italics added).
David said, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word" (Psalm 119:9).
Solomon wrote, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23).
Apply. Pray and ask God to bring to your mind the steps you should take to guard your heart and to improve the purity of your thinking (Philippians 4:8). As part of your action plan, read and meditate upon God's word daily (Psalm 119:9).
"Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child" (Luke 2:4).
This article explores the story behind and the scripture allusions in the hymn, "Once in Royal David's City."
Hymn Text Writer
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) was an Anglo-Irish hymnodist and poet. Mrs. Alexander's hymns and poems though her lifetime number nearly 400 (Ref. 2). She is best known for her hymns, "All Things Bright and Beautiful," There is a Green Hill Far Away," and the Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City" (Ref. 3).
As an adult, Cecil Frances Alexander wrote primarily for children. She felt that the truths of Christianity could best be taught through hymns (Ref. 4 below). In 1848, Cecil Frances Humphreys (her name before she married) wrote a series of hymns to teach children about the Apostles Creed (Ref. 4, Ref. 5). She wrote "Once in Royal David's City" to explain to children the phrase from the Apostle's Creed that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35 KJV, Ref. 4, Ref. 5).
Hymn Tune Composer
Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876) was an English organist and songwriter (Ref. 6). He was also, in turn, a lawyer, author, organ designer, and organ recitalist (Ref. 7). He composed over 1,000 hymn tunes. His most famous tune is "Irby," the tune to which we sing the Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City" (Ref. 6).
I suggest that you refer to the attached hymn sheet music (Ref. 8) for the following discussion of Scripture and the four verses of hymn text.
"Once in royal David's city" (hymn, verse 1). In the Bible, the words, "city of David," refer to two locations. In the Old Testament, the city of David referred to the area of Jerusalem that David captured as described in 1 Chronicles 11:4-8. David built houses there and lived there (1 Chronicles 15:1). David was buried in the city of David (1 Kings 2:10).
In the New Testament, Luke refers to David's ancestral home, Bethlehem, as the city of David (Luke 2:4, 1 Samuel 17:12). Luke also tells what the angel said when the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced Jesus' birth. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). After the angel had spoken to the shepherds, the shepherds were clear that the location they were to go visit was in Bethlehem (Luke 2:15).
"He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all" (hymn, verse 2). The words, "He came down to earth from heaven" refer to the incarnation of Christ. The Gospel of John says, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
"He feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness" (hymn, verse 3). Jesus was fully God and fully human (John 1:1, John 1:14, Colossians 2:9, Ref. 9). As a human being, Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15-16). For example, Jesus knew grief and sorrow (Isaiah 53:3, John 11:33-35). Jesus knew joy (Hebrews 12:2).
"He leads his children on to the place where he has gone" (hymn, verse 4). Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all" (Luke 18:17). The Gospel of John tells us, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).
The hymn's words, "He leads his children," speak to me both of Jesus leading and we who believe in Jesus Christ following him (Ref. 10). Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). We know that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3). Once we put our trust in Jesus Christ, he leads us and we follow him through life to his eternal home.
Listen and watch The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, UK sing "Once in Royal David's City." Click here for the YouTube link - Ref. 11. To see and follow the lyrics for the six verses sung in the video, click here - Ref. 12.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming down from heaven to earth to become a human being. Thank you, Jesus, that you know our emotions and that you strengthen us when we are weak. Thank you, Jesus, that when we believe in and accept you, you lead us through life to your eternal home.
4. Robert K. Brown, Mark R. Norton, "The One Year Book of Hymns," Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1995
12. (the link begins on the next line) https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/once_in_royal_davids_city.htm
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29)
This article is the second in the series, "Biblical Principles of Sound Speech." Today's lesson focuses on the attributes of sound speech, that is, the essential characteristics that our speech should have.
Consider. Think for a moment. What do you think the positive qualities of speech should be? If someone asked you to describe what the Bible says our speech should be like, what would you say in reply?
Today's lesson describes the four characteristics of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29. Today's verse is part of the Apostle Paul's letter to Christian believers at the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1).
Wholesome. The first characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that it should be wholesome. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines wholesome as promoting health and well being, sound in mind and morals, prudent, and safe (Ref. 3). Our wholesome speech should promote the well-being of others, as we will see in the discussion below.
Paul begins Ephesians 4:29 with the phrase, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." The Greek word for unwholesome is sapros. Sapros means rotten, worthless, bad, corrupt and is applied to putrid vegetable or animal substances (Ref. 4, Ref. 5 below, Ref. 6). Matthew 7:17-18 use the same word. Jesus said, "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt [sapros] tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7:17, brackets added).
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul instructs us to restrain our mouths so we do not let any unwholesome (bad, rotten, corrupt) words go forth. Bad language not only reflects the corruptness of the "heart of a speaker" but also tends "to corrupt the minds or manners of hearers" (Ref. 7).
If you would like to read more on what the Bible says about avoiding cursing and profanity, please go to the page, "Bible Verses About Sound Speech" and read the last section (Ref. 8).
Good for Edification. The second characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that our speech should be good for edification. That is, our speech should build others up, not tear them down. The Greek word for edification is oikodomé. The short definition of oikodomé is a building or edifice (Ref. 9). However, edification of people means more than building an architectural structure. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines oikodomé as "the act of one who promotes another's growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, happiness" (Ref. 9).
According to the need of the moment. The third characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that our speech should be according to the need and that it should be timely. The Greek word for need is chreia, which means need, necessity, business, occasion (Ref. 10). The English Standard Version (ESV) translates this phrase, "as fits the occasion" (Ref. 11). Our speech should edify (build up) our hearers according to the particular need of their spiritual state (Ref. 12).
The phrase, "According to the need of the moment," suggests to me that in our roles (for example, authors, teachers, parents, spouses, co-workers, team members, friends) we need always to pray and seek the Holy Spirit's guidance about what to say to our hearers and when to speak. Sometimes when we have a good idea, it may not be the right occasion or the right time to blurt it out. Our hearers will "hear" better when the Holy Spirit has prepared them to receive what we have to say. We should pray about when we should share our idea, inspiration, request, or constructive criticism. As an example from Scripture, God provided the occasion for Nehemiah to speak his request to King Artaxerses approximately four months after Nehemiah had prayed to God about the condition of Jerusalem's wall (Nehemiah 1:1, Nehemiah 1:11, Nehemiah 2:1, Nehemiah 2:4).
King Solomon addressed the importance of timeliness in Proverbs 25:11. "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances." Our speech not only should be sensitive to the circumstances, but also should be spoken at the right time. We should look to God to guide as to when that time will be.
Grace-giving. The fourth characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that our speech should "give grace to those who hear." The Greek word for grace is charis, which means grace, kindness, favor, and especially, God's divine influence upon the heart (Ref. 13, Ref. 5 below). Our speech should minister the grace of God to others.
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouths: but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29 - 1599 Geneva Bible).
Summary. As Christians, and as instructed by the Bible in Ephesians 4:29, our speech should exhibit four essential qualities. Our speech should be wholesome, good for edification (building up others), appropriate for the occasion and timely, and grace-giving.
To see additional attributes of sound speech from the Bible, please refer to the separate page, "Bible Verses About Sound Speech" (Ref. 8).
Apply. I suggest that you memorize Ephesians 4:29 so you will always have this verse and these four essential qualities of sound speech in mind. If you would like to see this verse in other translations, please click on the link to Ephesians 4:29 on biblegateway.com and then select the translation of your choice.
5. James Strong, "The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995
Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
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