the problem in having “a way with words”

Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.

A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!

My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

James 3; MSG

Some of us have no trouble talking. I listened to the NIV being read for many years, anywhere from a time and a half to maybe three or four times a year. That translation comes across basically clearly while maintaining accuracy. That’s been my passion for a long time, to communicate. I’m willing to understate and oversimplify things to an extent, just to try to get the main message across.

That’s carried over to maybe some good, but also some things that may not be quite as good, or perhaps not good at all. What I mean is that when we open our mouths, whether literally, or with words online, we need to be careful to take care with reference to the impact that might be made. It’s not like no feathers can be ruffled. Look at the entire book of James itself. James certainly wasn’t afraid to speak hard truth, but he was a pastor, in fact the lead pastor of the early church in Jerusalem. He had authority from God to do so. But even he acknowledges here that he is not infallible or above criticism over what he says. This letter would definitely be an exception since it’s a part of Scripture. And part of the point here is to be wary of our own words, watch our step, and be willing to backtrack and take back some of them when need be. Of course better not to go there in the first place. This is a quandary and a conundrum, or to put it in a way that I prefer, just plain hard, when you think you see danger and want to warn others who think quite the opposite.

All of James’ words so aptly rendered here by Eugene Peterson need to be carefully read, weighed, and taken to heart. What comes across for me during this time is the importance of making sure our lives are in line with what we profess, that we are in no way part of the problem. But according to James, if we say much at all, we’ll inevitably have to remove some part of our foot from our mouths, because we simply won’t, indeed can’t get it all right. That should make us reticent to say much at all, and when we do speak, carefully weigh every word. If what we say isn’t animated by love, and specifically God’s love in Christ, and in harmony with Scripture, especially the main point of Scripture, the gospel, then it is best for us to remain silent, and just pray. Prayer should mark our lives anyhow, just as was the case with James himself, who was called “camel knees” due to his known practice of prolonged prayer. And to work through the hard matters so as to preserve relationships. That comes across to me in these words, though everyone of them matters. Are we caught up in the fire of hell, or are we intent in remaining in the light and love of heaven, even in a world that might reject that? Oh for the wisdom James talks about in this letter, and in this passage. Sorely needed today, beginning with me. In and through Jesus.

thoughts on hell

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

Revelation 20:14

Hell is the place or state we choose apart from God’s grace in Christ. It is beyond my comprehension, and I really don’t want to dwell on it. But it is sobering. We get what we chose in this life in the end maybe so to speak, in spades. We either choose the light God gives us, or recede back more and more into the darkness, our own as well as that of this world.

I don’t see it as a physical lake of fire, but as something that is tormenting us more and more, as we live life apart from God.

Whether or not hell is forever (I think from the Bible it is, but you can make a case that it might be temporary either in annihilation at a certain point, or actual purification, though I think myself the latter is more far fetched), and I hope not myself, people receive what they deserve.

I like C.S. Lewis’s view of it as something we choose for ourselves in this life carried on into the next life. Humans were made for relationship with God and with each other. But sin separates us from God and from others. So in the eternal state we keep moving further and further on the track we chose in this life.

It is hell to live apart from God on our own. If we make our own light or depend on another light other than that of the gospel, then we’re indeed in for great deception. Jesus said that if the light in us is darkness, then that darkness is great.

Hell is living apart from God and God’s good will. Even as Christians we can live in a kind of hell when we seek to live life on our own, or unwittingly give into either self-deception or satanic deception. That’s a far cry from living in God’s grace in Christ in which we trust and obey and depend on God to see us through.

It’s a big subject, just a few scattered thoughts here. God grant us to rest in Christ. God took hell for us in himself at the cross, so that we never have to experience a shred of it here (though we still do at least from time to time), and none in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

a new vision

A big issue with Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” is story in terms of just what story the Bible is telling. Those Christian leaders who have made out of bounds statements against Rob Bell see his take on the meaning of the biblical story as heretical.  While I can’t see Rob’s take on it as doing justice to the whole of scripture, I do think he’s getting at something which is there, but which his opponents don’t seem, in my view, to account well enough for. That indeed mercy does overrule (CEB), or triumphs over (NIV) judgment. In other words, what is at work in the world is an unleashing of God’s salvation through Christ in a way in which mercy is at work. From scripture we see the only norm is that this is to occur through the church. Although there may be hints in scripture, and indeed there are some indications that God meets people in unusual ways at times, apart from the norm.

Of all people on earth, we Christians should have the largest hearts of anyone. And I’m referring to hearts of mercy. There’s no doubt that we’re all sinners, all humanity is under the power and penalty of sin. We deserve nothing but God’s judgment. But we know that in and through God’s son, Jesus, judgment has been taken care of on the cross so that through the resurrection, new life in the salvation in Jesus, is offered to all. But what about the many who either have never heard, or who have a distorted view of the gospel? I don’t see a second chance beyond the grave promised in scripture, though I am hopeful that such will be the case. I tend to view hell in a C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller sort of way, a kind of underworld in which people choose their self-destructive way in moving further and further away from God. Perhaps ending at some point in annihilation (John R.W. Stott), or to the place where the image of God is completely gone, so that no humanity is left (along the lines of my understanding on this from N.T. Wright).

What we need today, and always need to be open to, is nothing short of a new vision from God. Always reforming is tied to the Reformation, yet many advocates of the Reformation today seem to want us to go back and live in the past. There is much good we can learn from the Reformers, which would be helpful for us today. But I don’t believe one of them, if they were alive today, would hold to the letter all they wrote or said back at that time. For example the Jewishness of our faith that has come to light over the past few decades, and how that impacts our understanding of the law, and of so much in scripture is undeniable. That does not at all change the basic insights of the Reformation. But it rids the Reformation of baggage which actually undermines its argument. So that we end up, according to my understanding, to embrace something of both the old and new perspectives on Jesus and Paul. We do need to keep prayerfully studying together.

We need to keep seeking God, and indeed every generation and culture needs to do so, for a fresh vision of the story for our day, and for the times in which we live. Not changing the essence of the Story, but letting the Story be what it is: incarnational through and through in words and the Word, made by the Spirit to make all things new, fulfilling what is of God in the old into the new, in and through Jesus.

As a bottom note, I’m advocating a new vision in keeping with scripture, then tradition, reason and experience. It is something we in Jesus need to remain open to, and continue to work at in this present world where we will ever be seeing through a glass darkly, and will know only in part (1 Corinthians 13). And while I see Rob Bell bringing up some good points which are good for the conversation that is needed, I don’t come down where he does, as to the answer, which I hope I made plain enough by implication, in this post.