Empty Words and Peer Pressure

Ephesians 5:6-7

An old fable that has been passed down for generations tells about an elderly man who was traveling with a boy and a donkey. As they walked through a village, the man was leading the donkey and the boy was walking behind. The townspeople said the old man was a fool for not riding, so to please them he climbed up on the animal’s back. When they came to the next village, the people said the old man was cruel to let the child walk while he enjoyed the ride. So, to please them, he got off and set the boy on the animal’s back and continued on his way. In the third village, people accused the child of being lazy for making the old man walk, and the suggestion was made that they both ride. So the man climbed on and they set off again. In the fourth village, the townspeople were indignant at the cruelty to the donkey because he was made to carry two people. The frustrated man was last seen carrying the donkey down the road.

This story illustrates Paul’s point exceptionally well, since it illustrates both points that Paul is making in these verses. First of all, it illustrates the emptiness of the villagers’ comments. Any one of these arrangements is a perfectly acceptable way of traveling down the road, and yet the villages all passed judgment on whatever was the current arrangement. The villages did this more to make themselves look good than for any genuine concern about the old man, the youth, or the donkey. In other words, the villages were all giving out many empty words. Those words deceived the old man into thinking that his current setup was wrong and cruel. The second point that Paul makes here is in verse 7. Associating with such people means that peer pressure will be immense. The villages all implied that if you wanted their approval, then you had to do what they said. As a result, the old man was implicated as an accomplice in the empty words of the villagers. He was responsible for his actions, since he listened to their empty words. Let’s take these points one at a time.

Firstly, we must not be deceived by empty words. There are millions of people out there spewing out completely empty words, words that have no meaning, or worse: words that are deceptive, and intended to lead people astray. The health and wealth gospel as espoused by Joel Osteen is a premier example of this. He says that people need to live in utter victory now, and that anyone who is dealing with difficult circumstances in life now is not living in utter victory. In other words, if you don’t have a completely successful life now, then you are not a Christian. These are empty words. Jesus says that we need to take up our cross and follow Him. Victory is not until the next life. As Churchill says, we are only promised blood, sweat, toil, and tears.

Another example of empty words are the various attempts to derail the Gospel. Liberation theology says that the Gospel consists entirely of allowing black people their full voice in society, and that the Gospel is social liberation. The Gospel is liberation. However, it is liberation from sin. This liberation does have social consequences. But let us not confuse the consequences for the real thing. Feminist agendas see Christianity as inherently sexist, trying to put women down. So, they will either deny the authority of Scripture, saying that it is too hateful of women to be of use, or they will twist Scripture’s words to mean what they do not mean. These are empty words. Gay/Lesbian groups are not sitting idle with the Word of God, either. They are reinterpreting passages of the Bible that clearly speak out against the sin of homosexuality, and make them refer only to uncommitted relationships. The implication is that a committed homosexual relationship is fine. Again, empty words that deprive the Gospel of all its meaning.

Maybe the most insidious attack on the Christian faith today is postmodernism. This philosophy simply says that there is no such thing as an absolute truth. Furthermore, everyone makes up their own truth in life. Colleges everywhere are taking up this philosophy. The end result is that everyone’s religion is true. It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe it sincerely. If you have sons or daughters in college, then you really need to pay attention to this one, since colleges that are calling themselves Christian have espoused this philosophy. This philosophy is also empty and devoid of meaning. What does it mean to say that there is no such thing as a truth that is true for everyone? Is that statement supposed to be true for everyone? Is it true for everyone that there is no such thing as absolute truth? In other words, is it an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth? I hope you can see the utter absurdity of such thinking. Any and all such thinking is foolishness. We ought to avoid such thinking wherever possible. Otherwise, we will be tossed here and there with every wind of doctrine, much like the old man, who couldn’t please anyone, and so wound up in the completely absurd position of carrying his own donkey, which was supposed to be carrying him! But that is the result of being deceived by empty words: your life will be a contradiction.

In verse 7, Paul tells us not to associate with such people. Obviously, the best way to avoid being deceived by empty words is to avoid the empty words entirely! Notice that Paul said that the wrath of God is coming upon those people who are uttering these empty words. We are accountable for every word that comes out of our mouths. If the wrath of God is coming upon them (i.e., if the second coming will show up such people for who they are), then we should definitely not associate with them. After all, we do not want to be implicated in their guilt. That is really what this word “associate” means. It does not mean that we completely avoid talking to such people, or showing them Christ’s love. It means that we do not share in their ideas. In other words, we do not become accomplices to the crime of empty words. We do not become fellow participants in their empty words of deceit. How would such a thing happen? Well, if you do not have discernment, then you will not know whether someone’s words are empty or not. Therefore, you must develop spiritual discernment. How does one do that? Well, it happens primarily by the use of the means of grace. I harp on the means of grace, because most Christians today think that they just get zapped somehow, and they have spiritual discernment. It doesn’t work like that. Spiritual discernment takes a great deal of effort. It takes priority in your life. You may not be able to work that sixth job, if it means that you have no time for reading God’s Word, and being in prayer, and visiting other people in the body of Christ. Beware of having worldly priorities. Having worldly priorities means that the means of grace will be blunted in your life. They will not have the proper effect on your life, because you are too busy doing other things, and you see the means of grace as optional extras. They are not optional, and they are not extra.

Peer pressure, however, can also put a damper on the means of grace. Oftentimes, people who make use of the means of grace are labeled Puritans, goody two-shoes, or even worse, hypocrite. It is vitally important here to remember that we must obey God rather than men. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could become accomplices in the crimes of others by bowing to their wishes in life. Christ died to create a new church, a new community that is built on the means of grace. Our association is with other believers. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we would do well to remember that. Who are the friends with whom you spend the most time? Are they unbelievers or believers? You should spend more time with believers. They should be your best friends.

The words of Christ are the words of life. They are the words of the Bible. There is no deceit in them. They are not empty, but full of meaning, richness, comfort, salvation, and life itself. Whose word will you trust? The empty words of our modern culture, which seek to advertise falsely? Or will you believe the words of eternal truth? If you will believe the words of eternal truth, then you must also associate with others who believe the same thing. Then your foundation will be built on a solid rock, which is Jesus Christ.