Traps and Questions

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-17

People who opposed Jesus intentionally tried to trap Him in His words. This is also a common strategy of the enemy for those who follow Jesus. The first attempt was by people with a combination of a religious spirit (Pharisees) and a political spirit (Herodians). The question was about politics. If Jesus rejected imperial taxes, He would gain favor with the general populace but could be condemned by Rome. If Jesus embraced imperial taxes, He would protect Himself from Roman imprisonment but would lose favor with the people.

Notice that they come with flattery. They are trying to get Jesus to overstep with His words and make an enemy of Rome. But Jesus sees through it all. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Everyone was amazed by His answer. Not only did He not fall for the trap, but He challenged their own arrogance.

Christian, beware of political questions that are not coming from a place of interest but from a place of trying to trap you in your words and discredit you. In our post-Christian culture, we need to be wise. Jesus warned us saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves“(Matthew 10:16).

Not only did the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trap Jesus with politics, but that same day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in His theology.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Matthew 22:23-28

Notice here that the Sadducees have concocted an elaborate question about the obscure details of the resurrection, something they don’t even believe in. This is a strong indicator that the question is not coming from a place of curiosity but from a place of cynicism.

Imagine you visit an island in the Pacific that has unique volcanic sand that is black. Now imagine a friend, who doesn’t even believe that island exists, asks an elaborate scientific question trying to prove that black sand is a myth. It’s not worth having a long conversation about the scientific reality of black sand. Your friend doesn’t even believe the island is real in the first place. Notice how Jesus answers the Sadducees.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30

Jesus skips over the elaborate details of their question and gets right to the root of the problem. The question itself is in error. They are asking the wrong question because 1) they don’t know the scriptures, and 2) they haven’t experienced the power of God. Their interpretation and understanding of scripture is limited and skewed and their experience of God is lacking. These two things cause a person not just to have the wrong answers but to start with the wrong questions. They are not coming to Jesus teachable and curious. They are skeptical and arrogant and want to get Jesus in a theological bind.

Christian, beware of theological questions that are not coming from a place of learning and curiosity but from a place of trying to trap you theologically. In our post-Christian culture, we need to know the scriptures and the power of God. Experiencing the power of God is just as important as our study of scripture. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

We can argue all day about black sand, but I’ve actually been to the island. I’ve put my toes in the sand in question. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean and breathed in the fresh air of the island. We’re not talking about an idea. We’re talking about something I’ve experienced firsthand.

There’s no going back after we’ve experienced the power of God. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. And knowing the scriptures helps us put our experiences of God into the larger context of the Kingdom of God and the story of God.

Spend time answering the questions of people who are genuinely curious, genuinely hungry to know God. This is the example that Jesus set. When people were trying to trap Him, He gave short answers and moved on, knowing their hearts were either hard or rocky and not ready for the seed of the word of God (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).

Cursing Words

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3:7-12

Words are powerful and words can do damage. More than that, a harsh word can turn into a curse over a person’s life. They can become like a deadly poison. This is especially true if the harsh word comes from an authority figure in the person’s life (parent, teacher, coach, pastor, etc).

This is how it often happens. A harsh word is spoken. The person receives the word and either actively or subconsciously agrees with it. Then this word is used by the enemy to enforce that word over the person’s life. For example, a dad says to his son in anger, “You’re such a screw up!” The son wants to reject this word but can’t. The son lets this word sink in. His heart agrees with it. The enemy uses this to cause issues in the son’s life from this point on, from failing grades to getting fired from jobs. Over time, the enemy tries to re-enforce this word with as much evidence as possible. It becomes a “curse of words.”

But it doesn’t just happen between parents and children. It can happen between friends. It can happen at work. It can happen anytime a person speaks a word against you that isn’t in line with what God says about you. Curses come like an email with a virus attached to it. If you delete the email, no harm is done. However, if you open the attachment, the virus infiltrates your computer. If we reject the harsh word spoken against us, it falls to the ground powerless in our lives. But if we agree with it, it can be used by the enemy against us. This can even happen to words we speak over ourselves.

So what do we do?

Jesus’s death and resurrection has made us new creations. He has authority over everything and He has delegated His authority to us. So, in Christ, we have the authority to break these curses that have been spoken over us. The first thing we have to do is break any curses that have already been spoken. Here is a sample prayer for this. Pray this prayer out loud:

In the name of Jesus, I break every curse of words against me. I take every word captive that I spoke over myself. I break the power of those curses. I cancel every assignment of darkness and remove every right of the demonic to afflict me because of those curses. I cast every word of cursing to the ground to be without effect. And I call blessing to fall on me in its place. I take back every curse I have spoken against another. I cast those words down to the ground to be without effect. I return a blessing on those whom I have cursed. Jesus took my curse so I can live in blessing. 

The second thing we need to do is protect ourselves from any future word that comes at us. If someone speaks a harsh word against your identity (could be from your family, your workplace, or friend) don’t let it sink in. Have you ever had a comment from someone just kind of hang on you? It circles around in your mind over and over again? That’s because its trying to land. Don’t let it. Here are some steps to work through:

  1. Reject the word out loud. Pray, “In Jesus’s name, I reject the word that I am _______________ that was spoken by ____________. I do not agree with it. More importantly, God, I know that you don’t agree with it.”
  2. Proclaim what God says about you out loud. Pray something like, “God, you say that I am a new creation in Christ. You say that I am a beloved child of God. I am robed in righteousness. I am forgiven and washed clean.” List your real identity, who you really are, in Christ.
  3. Ask God to reveal areas you need to work on. Pray something like, “Holy Spirit, would you form in me the character of Christ. Make me more like Jesus. Show me an area where I need to step into my real identity in Christ. Show me where I am falling short. Show me any lies I am believing. Show me who I need to forgive and who I need to ask forgiveness from.”

Rather than trust someone who spoke a harsh word to you in anger and rather than believe an off-handed comment of sarcasm or ridicule, we need to trust the Holy Spirit to reveal areas that we need to surrender. Whenever the Holy Spirit reveals an area of sin or spiritual immaturity in our lives, He does so wrapped in grace and compassion. The Lord’s words of correction bring conviction but never shame and guilt. The challenge comes with encouragement and a reminder of who we really are in Christ.

So, are there words hanging over you right now? What words do you need freedom from? Ask God to reveal them. Jesus came to set you free and to see you live in freedom.

Words and Tongues

I went through most of my Christian life not engaging with the practice or the issue of praying in tongues. Then, a few years ago, I entered a new season of my walk with the Lord where I began to pray in tongues. As someone who did not grow up in a charismatic church, this transition caused me to do a lot of research on the issue. I have been asked on a number of occasions to bring clarity to this issue.

But what has been surprising to me is how Christians can be so concerned with tongues (both positively and negatively) and yet so few Christians are concerned with the damaging effects of our words. This is an imbalance that must be corrected in the church.

Whatever interpretive controversy there may be around speaking or praying in tongues, there is no interpretive controversy around what the Bible says about our words. Our words matter. Our words are powerful and can do serious damage. Yet, many Christians, especially on social media, act like verbally destroying people they disagree with is okay. It’s not.

The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body…

…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

James 3:6, 8-11

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.

Proverbs 11:12, 17

The bottom line is that the Bible has many scripture passages that talk about the damage that can happen from our words. Over and over again in the New Testament we are instructed to “bless and do not curse” and, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil“(Romans 12:14, 17). Yet, how many followers of Jesus are heeding this instruction from the Lord?

Instead, we want to argue about things like the gift of tongues. Isn’t that ironic? We argue about praying in tongues while never stopping to control our own tongues.

If you have confusion about speaking in tongues, you can go to this link where I taught a seminar on the Supernatural Christian Life. On Week 6, I spent the whole session unpacking the gift of tongues. In summary, I believe the gift of tongues shows up in 5 different and distinct ways in the church today. Each of these is for the building up of the church or the believer. None of these expressions of tongues make someone more or less spiritual than anyone else.

Personally, I celebrate the gift of tongues as an incredible gift from the Lord. Praying in tongues has been a powerful tool in my own life. But if we, as the church, want to focus on something even more powerful, let’s learn how to speak words of life that build up and encourage people. Let’s learn to bless those who curse us.

The Power of Words

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:33-37

Our language reveals our heart. If we continue to lie, there is deception in our hearts. If we continue to speak words that are harsh and condemning, there is anger (and maybe rage and hate) in our hearts. If we continue to push people away with our words, there is rejection in our hearts (because we always feel rejected regardless if that is the truth or not). We will have to give an account of every empty word that we’ve spoken. We will have no defense except the blood of Jesus.

There are many people whose words that they speak are ruining their life. Words have the power to bring life or death to the people around us. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit“(Proverbs 18:21). Matthew 12 mentions fruit as well. We will eat the fruit of our own words. If our words bring life, we will experienced life all around us. If our words criticize, cut people down, judge, mock, condemn, and punish then we will experience death all around us. That will be the fruit we eat!

Another way to understand this truth is that our critical and harsh words not only bring death to the people around us (and subsequently becomes the bad fruit that we eat) but there is also a boomerang effect to our words. The measure we use will be used against us.

If our measurement tool is full of forgiveness, grace and love, that is the tool that will measure our own life. The enemy will have no place to attack us. But if our measurement tool is full of judgement, anger, resentment, criticism, and perfectionism then that is also the tool that will measure our own life. The enemy will launch attack after attack on our life because we’ve given him a standard of measurement that leaves us completely open to attack. Our life could never hold up to the standard to which we hold others.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:37-38

Your words were meant to bring life to the people around you. Your words were meant to bring life to you! “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt...”(Colossians 4:6). We need to examine our heart to see what is coming out of it in the form of words. If toxic words are coming out, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to clean out the deep places of our wounded heart. We need to take off the old self, put it to death, and put on the new self which is being renewed day by day to look more like Jesus.

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:7-10

Take inventory of your words and it will reveal the condition and contents of your heart.

What kind of words have you been speaking lately? Have they brought life or death? Have you felt their boomerang effect?

Blessings and Curses

Paul reminds the Galatians that Jesus became a curse for us so that blessing might flow to us. He wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'[Deuteronomy 21:23] He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit”(Galatians 3:13).

I used to not understand that blessings and curses are real things. I would read the Old Testament passages that seemed to indicate that the blessing of a patriarch would help shape the future of the child who received it (Genesis 27). I would read about how a prophet was hired to put a curse on Israel (Numbers 22). Yet, I just thought words simply encouraged or discouraged. I didn’t think they had any real effect in this world. But I was wrong!

Scripture tries to warn us again and again that our words impact things in the spirit realm and in the natural world. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

James 3:8-10 says, “…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

So how do blessings and curses work?

Some curses are intentional but most are unintentional. An intentional curse is an evil appeal for harm to come to someone, especially in voodoo, witchcraft/Wicca and occult practices, and it is usually spoken aloud. An unintentional curse usually comes in the form of harsh and condemning words spoken about a person or words of hopelessness and despair spoken over a person’s life (usually from someone in authority over them like a parent, coach, doctor or teacher).

An unintentional curse could be a father, in a moment of anger, saying to his child, “You’ll never amount to anything!” Those words sink in and are believed. Later that child struggles to be successful and wonders why. Or it could be a doctor saying, “You’ll never have children,” or “You’ll never recover.” These words kill hope and help to bring about what they proclaimed.

The key to these harsh or hopeless words becoming curses is how they are received. If these words are accepted by the person, and there is an agreement made in their hearts, these words then give the demonic world access to the person’s life to bring about that word of cursing. They become self-fulfilling prophecies because the enemy takes advantage of them as access points.

Harsh and hopeless words are like an email sent with an attachment that has malware or a virus. The email may contain harsh words, but the real damage comes when there is an agreement with those words in the person receiving them. It’s like clicking on the attachment that allows a virus on your computer. But if the attachment is never opened, no matter how many emails are sent, the person will not be harmed. This is why we must be vigilant about the words that come against us. We must reject any word the enemy may try to use against us.

The best news of all is that Jesus became a curse for us! He took all of that cursing upon Himself so that we don’t have to deal with it. In the place of cursing, Jesus offers us blessing. He offers us His words over our lives that bring His blessing. And just as curses can have real effect in our lives if we agree with them, blessings can have even more effect if we agree with them.

So not only do we need to speak words of blessing over the people around us, allowing the Holy Spirit to ignite those powerful words in that person’s life, but we also need to stand in agreement with the words that Jesus says about us. Standing in agreement with the words of Christ over our life will help us immediately detect and reject any unintentional words of cursing that may come our way.

If you feel that you’ve agreed with too many harsh or hopeless words that have come your way, make the declaration below to break those curses off of your life in Jesus’s name. Just be sure to say it out loud when you take your stand!

“In the name of Jesus, I break every curse of words against me. I take every word captive that’s been spoken over me, that I spoke over myself. I break the power of those curses from hell. I cancel every assignment of darkness. I cast them to the ground. I call a blessing to follow me in their place. I take back every curse that I’ve spoken against another. I cast those words down to the ground and I return a blessing on those with whom I have cursed. Jesus took my cursing so I could live in blessing!”

From Rodney Hogue’s teaching in Empowered