Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
IN THE COURTROOM (C)
Introduction: Paul has brought seven indictments against our character:
I. All are under sin (v. 9)
II. There is none righteous (v. 10)
III. None understand God (v. 11a)
IV. None seek after God (v. 11b)
V. All are gone out of the way (v. 12a)
VI. All are become unprofitable (v. 12b)
VII. None doeth good (v. 12c)
Now the Apostle seeks an illustration to make his case even more convincing. He chooses to prosecute our conversation (vv. 13-14) because no one could ever claim innocence in this area of life. Speech-sins are a good choice to prove the universality of sin.
Paul will give our mouths a spiritual examination. A physician can look into the mouth and discern much. Swollen glands or signs of infection there can provide evidence of serious problems elsewhere in the body. Paul will now apply this same principle to our spiritual lives. A close examination of our mouths will provide insights into our essential nature.
The Apostle presses down the tongue-blade and lifts the otoscope, using the Word of God as his lens. As we say “Ah,” the Apostle recoils from what he sees. The diagnosis is grave:
VIII. THE THROAT IS AN OPEN SEPULCHER
(taken from PS 5:9a)
Romans 3:13a “Their throat is an open sepulcher;”
The throat is the seat of the vocal cords, the producer of sound. This birthplace of speech is a putrid grave full of corruption and death. Directing light down our spiritual throats is like taking a lantern into a sepulcher. The walls are dark and damp by the slimy trail of reptiles. Loathsome creatures scatter in every direction.
Corpses are decomposing. An unbearable stench makes the whole place utterly obnoxious. And worst of all, it is not even hidden, but open. Through our speech it becomes offensively detectable by all.
We have problems controlling our words because something is dreadfully wrong within us. Our speech is sinful because it rises from a sepulcher. It is difficult for clean and pure words to issue from such a place. Our words have to pass a miry pit. The stench of death is attached to them all. Only the power of Christ can give victory against such odds.
Being compared to an open sepulcher is a humbling thought. It reminds us, by nature we are corrupt in ourselves, infectious to others, and offensive to God. We were appalled by reports of the Beirut massacres. When the Red Cross finally arrived, they had to begin by repeatedly spraying the bodies with disinfectant. It was a heart-rending sight. However, we need the same treatment in our own spiritual lives. Our throats are always an open sepulcher. We can never win a “once-for-all” victory there. It requires constant vigilance.
Dr. Paul’s diagnosis continues:
IX. THE TONGUE USES DECEIT
(taken from PS 5:9b)
Romans 3:13b “. . .with their tongues they have used deceit;”
In other words, men tend to depart from truth and deal in lies. We all suffer from this illness. The diagnosis is painfully accurate. It is hard to find anyone whose speech and life are marked by complete integrity. Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, walked the streets of Athens with a lighted lantern. He held it up to the faces of strangers and said he was looking for an honest man. Washington and Lincoln are America’s heroes because of their integrity. They were honest men. We know such jewels are rare.
We are always susceptible to this temptation to lie. We wish to avoid embarrassing situations or desire to impress others. Often the desire is so strong that we “bend the truth.” It can happen to anyone:
Abraham lied about Sarah (GN 20:2);
Aaron lied about the golden calf (EX 32:24);
David lied to Abimelech the priest, claiming to be on a secret mission for King Saul when he was actually a fugitive (I SM 21:2);
Peter lied about knowing Jesus (MT 26:72);
Ananias and Sapphira lied about the purchase price of their land (AC 5:1-11).
We all tend to be liars from birth. Parents must remember that their children have a carnal nature. Honesty must be taught; it is not natural. What David said of the wicked is actually true of all: “. . .they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (PS 58:3b). In nothing do we more convincingly prove we are influenced by Satan. He is a liar, and the father of lies (JN 8:44).
X. POISON IS UNDER THE LIP
(taken from PS 140:3)
Rom. 3:13c “. . .the poison of asps is under their lips;. . .”
Men often use their words to convey death rather than life. No matter how much honey is on the lips, there is always poison under them. The “asp” of Scripture is now called the Egyptian cobra. It is a nervous snake, which when excited flattens its neck into a “hood” and lifts up the front of its body. Its fangs, which are short and cannot be folded up, are situated at the front of the upper jaw. When it attacks, the fangs are like hollow hypodermic needles which inject poison into a victim’s body. The venom quickly kills. The ancient Egyptians often used the cobra for suicide. It is believed Cleopatra committed suicide by holding an asp against her body.
The poison itself is produced in a venom gland, stored in a poison sac, and passes through a duct to the fangs. According to Paul, man also has a poison sac under the lips. In this way we are kin to snakes and descendants of the Old Serpent, Satan himself.
The poison of asps is even under the lips of saints, and words are the fangs that transmit it. The poison may be concealed in a sac, but it is still there. And if the bag is pressed in just the right way, plenty of poison will be available.
Learn to avoid venom-words. Through ugly speech men often show their greatest cruelty. It is awesome to ponder how much damage can be done through the medium of speech.
Since we have the power to poison others, we should never carry that power carelessly. Every time you emit poison from your lips, it is impossible to retrieve all of its damage. If I released five cobras in our preschool division, I could not make up for it later by going back and catching each one of them. The poison would have already done its damage. Once a flower is killed by frost, no amount of heat the next day can revive it.
Unfortunately, our churches are plagued with the poison of asps. Envy springs us into action. For every Abel trying to please God, a Cain is nearby spreading poison. Always remember, the one bitten is not the one who produced the poison. The one spreading the poison wants everyone to believe the victim is poisonous. However, the poison is produced by the backbiter, not the victim.
Learn to recognize the asps that are loose in a fellowship. They are the ones doing the biting. Often, instead of recognizing the serpents for what they are, the church begins to oppose the bitten ones.
Learn to crush the head of the serpent rather than attack the victim. If your child is bitten by a snake, you do not kill your child and cuddle the snake. The same principle should be applied to human relationships. We should be helping and healing the victims. The Master would have us oppose the asp, but love the torn and bleeding sheep.
Be careful. You have venom breath.
XI. THE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS
(taken from PS 10:7)
Romans 3:14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:”
It is a stroke of psychological genius on the part of Paul to put cursing and bitterness together. The two truly are bed partners. Cursers rarely display the joy of the Lord.
People who use profanity are generally characterized by discontent, dissatisfaction, and anger. Cursers tend to be folks who often have fits of anger.
The outward profanity proves there is an inner turmoil. The man with a vulgar mouth has a cauldron of bitterness seething within. Unrest is constantly brewing in his heart.
Beware the sin of profanity. Few sins rile up Divine wrath as quickly and ferociously as cursing. The Lord revealed his attitude clearly in the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (EX 20:7).
Cursing with the lips brings down a curse on all of life. The Psalmist gives this gloomy forecast for a curser: “As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him. . . . As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones. Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually” (PS 109:17-19).
Profanity is truly a “sin above other sins.” It is especially inexcusable. There is no logical reason for it. One who curses, sins merely for sin’s sake. Such activity closely resembles the motives of Satan himself.
Conclusion: Paul has shown that the different organs of speech all exercise their power to hurt:
The throat, seat of the vocal cords, is like a shiny sepulcher;
The tongue is deceitful;
The lips cover poison;
The mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
We all suffer from inner evils. Something is wrong inside us.
Do not try to deny it. Do not rebuke the Lord. We are often like a child who is adamantly swearing that he did not get in the jam jar. However, jam is smeared all over his face. We are guilty. And once we confess it and flee to the Master, help is immediately forthcoming. Run out of yourself to Jesus. He alone can provide strength sufficient for victory.