by Dr. Jack Hyles
Yes, you read it right. This chapter does not deal with separation from liberals, separation from new evangelicals, or even separation from carnal Christians. It will deal with separation from good Christians, from spiritual preachers, from godly deacons, from good, dedicated Sunday school teachers, and from loyal and faithful staff members. To be sure, Christian fellowship is important for God’s people, but this fellowship should be both planned and scheduled lest Christians spend an excess of idle time with each other. Someone has said, “Great minds talk about ideas; good minds talk about things; weak minds talk about people.” It would be a good idea for Christians to cease their fellowship when they leave off talking about ideas; certainly before they begin talking about people. Even casual talk will often deteriorate into criticism.
1. The Christian is not to talk about unclean things. Ephesians 5:1-3, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” Certainly this includes obscene talk, but it goes beyond that. We are not to talk about unclean things that are true. For example, I was in a certain city preaching. I had been to the same church on two other occasions while another man was its pastor. He had obviously run into some difficulty at the church and had resigned. The young preacher met me at the airport. In a few minutes he said, “I guess you heard about the trouble the former pastor had.”
I said, “No. The only thing I heard was that he resigned.”
The young preacher then told me that it was a sad story and began to tell me the story.
Immediately I said, “Hold it, son! I don’t want to know what happened. I’m here to be a blessing, and if there is something bad about the former pastor, I do not want to know it unless he himself comes to me for help. Then I must learn the story in order to help him. Otherwise I have no desire to know.”
During the two days that I was at the church, numerous pastors and laymen mentioned how sad they were about what had happened to the former pastor and each began to tell me. Each time I said, “Hold it! I don’t want to know what happened. I don’t need to know unless it is to help the brother, and then I want to find the facts from him.” Of course, gossip is bad, but it is also bad for the Christian to talk about unclean truth. The mind is the original computer. It is unwise to allow unclean things to enter therein.
The word “covetousness” in Ephesians 5:3 means “wanting to know more.” The word “named” means “mentioned or talked about,” which means we are not to want to know more or talk about or mention things that are unclean, even if they are true.
Recently I was talking to a friend on the telephone. He said, “Did you hear about so-and-so doing a certain thing that was bad?”
I said, “I don’t believe it and don’t want to talk about it.”
Several years ago I was in a motel room fellow-shipping with two great preachers. One of them asked if I had heard something negative about another great preacher. I said, “No, I have not heard it, and I don’t want to hear it. In the first place, if I heard it, I would not believe it. In the second place, I do not want a negative thought to enter into my mind about that brother.”
I was preaching in a Midwestern city in a church pastored by a dear friend. He asked me if I would go out to eat with him after the service. (He knew that I rarely did so.) I told him I felt like I didn’t have time. He said, “Please, Dr. Hyles. You are going to be here only one night, and I want to fellowship with you. Would you come if I promise not to talk about people?”
With a grin I agreed to do so. He kept his promise. We had blessed fellowship together.
2. The Christian is not to spend much time talking about light or frivolous matters. Ephesians 5:4, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” The word “filthiness” in this passage means “shameful.” The term “foolish talking” comes from the Greek word “moros” which means “silly” or “comic.” The word “jesting” comes from a word that was used concerning the quick movement of apes and people. It means “quick talk” or “chitchat.” The word “convenient” means “properly timed. ” This means that we should be appropriate with our humor, our jesting and our chitchat. It does not teach that we are never to be humorous, folksy or casually humorous in our talk. It means that such talk is to be properly timed, which should be in good taste and should be limited. God wants us to laugh. He certainly is not opposed to a funny story that is appropriate.
I have known personally some of the greatest Christians of the past. I was an intimate friend of John R. Rice, Bob Jones Sr., Lester Roloff, Bill Rice, G. B. Vick, Ford Porter and other great men of God. All of these men were delightfully humorous, but always with propriety and within boundaries and limitations. God is telling us here that planned, limited, appropriate chitchat and humor are acceptable, but this should not be unbridled, and it should not occupy a great portion of our time.
I suggest to our young people that they plan their dates. I suggest that they plan to do things together and not to spend a lot of time sitting and talking. Perhaps at the end of a date, ten to fifteen minutes could be allowed for chitchat and conversation, but when a young couple just sits and talks they usually will say things they should not say, or they will have a problem in their relationship.
The wise Christian will allow a set amount of time for telephone chitchat. It is a good idea to make notes prior to telephone conversations in order that the conversation may go in a proper direction and to prevent a waste of time. At the end of the conversation, perhaps two or three minutes could be allowed for casual talk, but it is dangerous for people just to call and talk by telephone for a length of time without a planned conversation. Soon the conversation will deteriorate into gossip, criticism, or people talk, or become a waste of time, or all four.
3. The wise Christian will put some time in his schedule for light talk. For over 22 years I shared platforms all over America with Dr. John R. Rice. I preached with him over 2200 times. I have shared the same motel with him, shared hundreds of meals with him and flown tens of thousands of miles with him. When we were together in a Bible Conference, we would set some time for light talk. We would share a funny story. I can hear him now as I would arrive at the destination and see him on a Monday afternoon. He would say, “Dr. Hyles, did you have a good day yesterday?”
I would reply in the affirmative and share some of the blessings of the day.
Then he would slyly say, “You know, that First Baptist Church of Hammond would really go to town if it had a pastor!”
Dr. Rice would come to breakfast in the morning. He would sit across the table from me and I would say, “Dr. Rice, did you sleep well?”
He would look across the table over the top of his glasses and say, “No, Dr. Hyles, I confessed sin all night.”
I would say, “Dr. Rice, with as many sins as you have, it probably would take all night.”
He would smartly reply, “Dr. Hyles, I wasn’t confessing my sin. I was confessing your sin!” We would then enter into conversation about the Bible, about the spiritual condition of America, or about some philosophy. We had our time for light talk, but it was brief and planned.
It is wise for the Christian not to get close to people who talk about people. Certainly we should be their friend, but we should avoid spending excessive time with them.
The same is true concerning family time. Family time should be planned. If Dad is home for an evening, let him plan a game of Ping-Pong with his son. Then maybe they could take a trip to a drive-in restaurant and maybe go for a drive around town. Some of the worst gossip and most idle conversation takes place around the family circle. Many children have been turned off to Christianity and have lost faith in Christian people and in God’s men because of casual talk by parents!
When our children were growing up, I spent planned time with them. I would take one of the girls on a date. I would get the basketball and shoot baskets with Dave or play a game with one of the children. The time spent was not as much as I would have liked, but it was planned time and quality time.
Every Monday I arrive at an airport somewhere in America. I am met by a pastor or a Christian layman and driven to my motel room. I am then driven to the services at night from my motel room and again the next morning and again the next night. I try to plan some conversation just in case there is nothing in particular that my driver wants to discuss. Recently I was driven from my motel room to the morning services by a fine man. I decided it would be a good thing for us to talk about the blessings of sleep and rest. When I got in the car I said, “Good morning, my brother. Did you rest well through the night’?”
He replied that he did and asked if I rested well. I then said, “Yes, I slept like a baby, which means I cried all night!” (Now this was a little planned, brief humor.) I followed it with this statement: “My brother, I sure thank God for sleep. How we ought to be grateful if we can sleep well! Millions of people last night could not sleep. Thank God, He gives His beloved sleep.”
He replied with a statement of praise, and we had a delightful time driving to the services praising God for rest and sleep. We had had a brief moment of light talk and then about fifteen minutes of giving praises to God.
God is not telling us that we should never be folksy or humorous. He is saying that we should keep it within bounds and that it should be planned and appropriate.
4. The Christian should bypass disagreements in his conversation. I Timothy 2:23, “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” The word “foolish” in this verse means “silly.” The word “unlearned” means “conversation where no one learns or teaches.” The word “avoid” means “to walk around or to detour. “God is telling us that we should detour conversation that is silly or where no one learns or teaches. Many times I am met at the airport by somebody who wants to discuss his pet conviction or his pet hate. He will bring up some controversial subject or some silly thing that divides fundamentalists. I often think that he is hoping that I will disagree with him so he can debate with me and thereby gain some measure of self-esteem.
On the other hand, I am often impressed by some young preacher who will meet me at the airport and will say, “Dr. Hyles, would you mind my asking you a question concerning your book on rearing children,” or “Brother Hyles, I am in a building program. Could I ask you a few questions about it?” or “Brother Hyles, I am counseling with a couple, and I need to probe your mind concerning some wisdom.” I am not in the car three minutes until I can usually predict the success or failure of my host.
In my contacts with great men of the past, I have always tried to probe their minds in order to gain knowledge, information and wisdom.
5. The Christian should avoid conversation that does no good to anyone. II Timothy 2:16, 17a, “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker.” The word “profane” in this verse could be translated “accessible.” The word “vain” means “void of results.” The word “babblings” implies “picking up scraps.” The word “canker” comes from the word “gangrene” or “an eating sore.” God is telling us here that we should avoid conversation that is void of results, that picks up scraps of information or that discusses an eating sore. Notice Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.”
For years I have set boundaries on my fellowship, as follows:
(1) I do not fellowship with those who want to argue.
(2) I try not to fellowship with those who just want to talk.
(3) I will not join in criticism of persons.
(4) I will not listen to nor share gossip.
(5) I will avoid discussing bad truth.
(6) I will do no second-party counseling. In other words, I will not counsel with someone for another so that they can take my counsel to a friend or loved one.
(7) I put a time limit on light conversation.
(8) I refrain from giving my opinion unless I feel it will help.
(9) I am always for the one who is attacked. I defend the one who is absent.
(10) I try never to believe bad about anybody. In other words, when I hear a rumor about someone, I do not believe it.
(11) I try not to have an opinion about something unless my opinion is needed.
(12) I do not seek to know bad news or something bad that a person is alleged to have done.
This means that the Christian must spend much time alone. He will have to separate himself from many unnecessary meals, from much of what is called Christian fellowship, from continuing telephone conversations after their purpose is ended. This does not come easy for me. I love people. I love to be with people. I love humor. The truth is, I can see humor in so many things, but I have to guard myself constantly lest I engage in an excess of idle talk and light conversation. Knowing this, I discipline myself concerning the time and quality of time I spend with good Christians. I believe this helps us to remain good Christians.
by Jack Hyles