the destructiveness of the tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

James 3:1-12

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3

There’s wisdom in the saying or idea that we should keep our thoughts to ourselves. Most often true. But add to that, we should bring our thoughts, especially when they’re disparaging of others, to God. And the psalmist’s prayer here is so helpful. One we ought to memorize and pray regularly, ourselves.

We little realize just how unruly and out of control our tongues can be. We might even say something which is okay, even good, yet add just a twist or something else which ruins it. How ruining our tongues can be.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget nonverbal communication. We might not say anything bad, yet be saying plenty bad by our attitude. People can pick up our spirit, whether it’s anger, or a critical spirit. We’re told to guard our hearts in Proverbs (4:23). In this life we’ll never arrive to perfection, that is, to a perfect heart. So we do well to ask God to guard our tongues. While all the while we seek through confession of sin and prayer to have a better attitude. Non-condemning and prayerful, as well as being a servant.

But to the root of this discussion. Yes, we can’t tame the tongue. But the Holy Spirit can make the needed difference, so that we can indeed become different people, choosing to speak helpful, constructive words, rather than what is discouraging and destructive. So with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do much better. And often times, in fact probably more often than not, simply say nothing. In and through Jesus.

it takes a church

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

All we need is in Christ, but much of that is actually meant to be derived through the church, Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). A most important way the Lord speaks to us and helps us is often all but missing today. It’s meant to be through the church, yes through the pastor or priest, but also through others, including everyone. There are serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Peter 4). And the Spirit speaking through the body, and giving a sense of congruity as in agreement and harmony.

I don’t know if there’s anything more overlooked as well as more helpful to us as followers of Christ than the church itself. What we’re apart of. For ourselves and for each other. In and through Jesus.

a time to speak up and a time to shut up

A right time to shut up and another to speak up

Ecclesiastes 3:7b; MSG

For me Jeremiah has been an interesting prophet since I imagine I share something of an emotional affinity with him. He is called the weeping prophet, and may well have written the book of Lamentations.

Jeremiah didn’t care about sharing his opinions. He was captive only to the word of God, to the message God gave him to speak. He found it nourishing to him, but he also found large parts of it to be more than troubling. And he got to live out not just the blessed parts, but at least something of the results of the cursed parts, for example commanded not to marry since bad times were coming.

I don’t see in Jeremiah a person who wanted to win arguments. But I do see one who again and again was willing to speak out an unpopular message from God to God’s people, even though it tore Jeremiah up.

Surely there’s much we can learn from Jeremiah for us today. There are times that to remain silent is surely wrong. We need to speak up, hopefully with needed wisdom and humility, and with forthrightness and clarity. But then there’s times to simply shut up, be quiet, let it go. I can see that in Jeremiah when after the false prophets contradicted him, saying all would be peace, Jeremiah told them, may it be so. He soon received another word from God which again contradicted the false prophets, flatly contradicting their word.

For Jeremiah it was definitely not an ego trip. It was only with great cost that he spoke. Since his passion and commitment was to speak only God’s message, he wasn’t interested in sharing his own thoughts, except when he was simply dealing with the human element of his dilemma.

Few of us will be called to speak out like Jeremiah, and some of us may not be called to speak at all, but rather act in things God gives us to do. Nothing greater than praying, of course. But in good works showing love to our enemies, what God puts on our hearts to do.

If we do speak out, it should be as those speaking God’s word, God’s message. Or our considered, measured, hopefully mature human judgment, making it clear that this is our opinion, perhaps even conviction, but with humility.

In today’s noisy din of dissenting voices, to hear God’s voice and see God’s wisdom break through would be our hope. Ultimately that will happen. We should seek to be in that flow, willing to shut up, but also to speak up when need be. Hoping and praying that God is getting through to us, as well as to others.

living/writing in privilege, or in the trial?

Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.

Proverbs 24:11-12; MSG

We live in a precarious, difficult time, and that’s especially so for some people. Some of us are more or less shielded from the trouble through the privilege of having plenty, and living in a society that is largely set according to our own expectations. Others of us are not as fortunate. We have to work in person during this pandemic, and added to that for many is living in a world where there are many extra hoops to pass through. Sometimes it is more than difficult for some. Extra help is needed if they’re going to make it, and hopefully begin to realize their God-given potential.

I really wonder when I consider what people write or don’t write, or what they’re doing or not doing, just why. I think we have to be slow to judge, and ask questions. In the end Jesus is the final judge (Matthew 25:31-46). In the meantime silence can be deadly. There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7b), and everyone has their own task. We certainly can do nothing greater than pray.

I have more or less struggled all my life inside of myself, so it’s easy for me to identify more with the down and outs, with those who struggle, because after all, I’m there. Including all the ignorance I carry.

Just something to reflect on.

leaving the war of words

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:20-22

Here in the United States we live in a democratic republic which includes free speech up to a point. One can say what they like, any wise or foolish thing, whatever, unless it amounts to harassing or threatening others. Nowadays we know that hardly anything is spared, be it on Twitter or other social media. And even when trying to engage in reasonable discussion, what one believes is true is considered false by the other. It certainly takes the wisdom of Solomon, and the wisdom James shares about the tongue and a life that makes the needed difference (James 3).

It is hard to know how to thread the needle. Some seem to think that one should say hardly nothing at all about the issues of the day. This seems to me to be mistaken, even wrong. But the question would be just what we should address, and then what we should say. While I’m not sure Jesus and the faithful in Scripture would have passed the test here, I think this post is definitely worth considering, not denying the need to speak at times, but making the test stringent. When you think about it, it’s probably much better to err on the side of less said, and try to understate everything. Maybe just point people certain directions so that they can make up their own minds. After all, none of us is Jesus. Though at the same time to never point out what might be wrong just seems to me to be off the mark. And consider what others are saying. Though maybe many of us are just called to pray.

I’ve decided that I need to say less, listen more, and above all, pray more. I so easily get caught up in the windstorm of news and all the violence of words, including words spoken to try to tame down the storm. We do need people of wisdom who might be able to redirect all of us into something better, to true wisdom. But again just how to thread the needle is surely beyond our own ability. We need God’s wisdom and help. It’s too easy to get caught up and swept away, and really end up not helping at all. Jesus’s words come to mind, that we as his followers are to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). But God’s Spirit and wisdom on us doesn’t mean that all will go well for us. Stephen’s case comes to mind here, the first martyr (Acts 6:1-8:3). Of course none of us should imagine ourselves in the same shoes as Stephen. We have to humbly look to God, and find our place. What are we all about? Is it really about following Jesus and what that means for us at the moment? And that will certainly involve different responses from different people. Some of us will just pray. Others might speak out on one issue, others on another. And as Jesus followers we will all seek to be living in God’s love in Jesus.

We need to remember that silence and prayer are probably the better part of wisdom most of the time. And that if there’s a time to speak, we’d best choose our words carefully. We don’t want to get caught up into the war of words. We want to find and perhaps share God’s wisdom: the help we ourselves receive. Remembering that God alone can bring the needed change in us and in others. In and through Jesus.

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.

“this too shall pass”

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

“This too shall pass” is a Persian proverb, and common in wisdom literature. And certainly said at least indirectly again and again in Scripture. We live in a day when headlines are hot day after day, and people are hot, angry and upset. That’s the whole goal of some, and the something which is behind that. To get people all hot and bothered, and really a matter of control for confrontation, showdown for a good butt-kicking. I know that’s crude, but it’s an especially crude time in which we live. Even if we “kicked butt” what good would that do? We end being caught up into the same catastrophe.

James gives us much needed help here. Our natural fallen human response is to react in anger to whatever the provocation might be. To be carried along a certain track, manipulated as it were, almost like puppets. Instead James tells us that we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Those two need to be held together. We always have a response to perceived evil. Instead we’re to listen. Yes, listen, not speak. Can’t do both at the same time. And we’re to be slow to become angry. Anger just breeds more anger, not only in us, but in those who are upsetting to us. James goes on to tell us what we need to do instead.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:21

In essence, we need to keep listening not just to others, but to God. And respond as God would have us. We do that by responding to God’s written word, as well as by hearing his voice. That requires ongoing listening and effort on our part.

This takes discipline and time. Yes, time. Commitment. It’s not a snap of the finger, simply fixing something matter. But remember, and we’re going have to keep remembering: “This too shall pass.”

 

hold that thought

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

It is so easy to get what might seem to be an inspired thought, and I don’t mean from God’s word, but right now I’m referring to something we want to say. But if we would give it enough time, our thought might at least be tempered or revised altogether. It’s important to let time and life help us to better understand. Realizing just how little we know.

It’s not like we can’t speak out. There’s indeed a time to speak, and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). And we will make mistakes along the way. That’s a part of being human.

But we need to emphasize to ourselves that there’s always plenty more to learn. And therefore listen, listen, and listen some more. To others, and especially to God.

stilling the storm of words

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

I think I’m a word person, so words are important to me. I want to know truth, and I want to communicate. It is probably something of the gift God has given me. So if there’s a storm of words, I may not like the storm, but I might easily be taken into the storm. And I’ve found over the years that such participation does little if any good. All too often it feels like one is only becoming part of that storm, certainly not helping to still it.

And now we have a pandemic which has hit the United States in full force economically, politically- exacerbating the great divide, and certainly physically, with the mounting death toll. And politically, it’s an election year. So all of this gets played out into a never ending storm of words. The map for this weather front sees little break in the clouds and storm to come. And not sure where the light at the end of the tunnel might be, if it’s coming at all.

Qohelet, the main writer of Ecclesiastes, seems to be a pessimist by nature, maybe what we would call a realist. He/she seems to be something of a hard core skeptic. I can resonate with that. When people think they have the answer to something, they’re never at a loss for words. But when one is not sure, or knows enough to know that they don’t know that much, then less words come, or maybe none at all.

The book of Job is a case in point. Filled with words from Job questioning God’s justice, and Job’s friends, correcting Job, and the words go on and on. But after God speaks, Job shuts his mouth, and continues to listen. And then repents in dust and ashes. Yes, we need the word from God, and much less of our own words. But to get to that point of listening, maybe we have to experience something of the storm of words, our own and others.

When one considers all of Scripture, and I’m especially thinking of the psalms, it seems like pouring our hearts in prayer to God, and expressing our unvarnished thoughts to him is commendable, and seen over and over again in Scripture. I think what we need a good healthy dose of though, is to learn to say less and listen more. And the one we need to listen to is God. To hear what God is saying to us ought to be our goal. We need to speak less and listen more. Yes, to others. But above all to God. Then the words we do speak might actually matter more.

 

we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.