no truth apart from love

The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:21,24

Some people seem to think that truth is telling it like it is, no holds barred. But truth in God’s world is always joined with love; you can’t separate them. Love is not love apart from truth; truth is not truth apart from love.

This should be an important baseline on how I judge my own speech and the speech of others. How well I receive a sermon, message or as it’s often called nowadays a conversation around and in God’s word. Is it imbued with grace and truth? If not, it will be lacking.

None of us has it altogether. And we might tend more either toward grace, or truth. People who are known to be blunt are often admired as “telling it like it is,” or “being real.” And others who can never say anything that might be displeasing to others will likely not be taken seriously, or will be seen as flatterers.

What we need is a combination of grace and truth. We speak truth, but we do so gently, with love. In fact we would want to consider and ponder how to make truth as attractive as possible, rather than quite the opposite. What will help us a long way in that direction is humility, the realization of how much we ourselves are in need of grace. That should help us put a curb on our harshness, and hopefully find in time that it no longer characterizes us.

When we understand our own great need for God’s mercy and grace, we won’t look down on others. But instead will want to help them with the help God gives us. In and through Jesus.

keeping our mouths shut

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Proverbs 17:28

One of the great secrets of true success in life is learning to keep our mouths shut, instead of blurting out our true thoughts, things we would like to say. It often seems right at the moment, but if we give it some time, and pause, we’ll know better, and most of the time, we’ll be grateful we didn’t speak.

We have to be careful, too, because we “non-verbally communicate” as well. It’s amazing how oftentimes people around us can pick up our true attitude toward them. So we need to guard our hearts and be in prayer, that we might not have an attitude which is ungracious, and cuts others down and off.

James wisely counsels us in proverbial like wisdom to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). To be slow to speak means for a time to not speak at all. To keep our thoughts to ourselves, even as we lift up a prayer to God that he will help us be kind, listen, and if we speak, speak that which is helpful for the situation. In and through Jesus.

the danger of the tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

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 3:1-12

Proverbs makes it clear that words can both heal and harm. James counsels restraint in what we say, the need to metaphorically bridle, or keep a tight rein on the tongue (James 1:26). We little understand the damage our words can do. The devil is not only in the details, but the results which can be devastating. And it seems that the human tongue is much more prone to bad, even evil than it is to good. And like James and the rest of scripture points out, this is indeed deceptive. After all we’re speaking our hearts, and that’s the problem, just as Jesus pointed out:

…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:18-19

On a more hopeful note, Jesus also said:

 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6:45

And James does get to that (3:13-18). But first we must settle in well on the fact and reality that our heart, and the thoughts which come from it are often helpful to no one. Heart in the New Testament, by the way, and in scripture includes thoughts and disposition. We certainly need to fill our hearts with good things. And God is at work to change our hearts to become more and more Christian, like Christ, and to be increasingly attuned to what’s good, and sensitive to what’s not. But again, we have to hone in on the truth that there’s a certain proneness in ourselves toward what ends up being destructive, along with a certain deception inherent in that, and with awful, hellish consequences. James minces no words on this, and considering the rest of the letter, does lend more words to the subject than what one might expect, with supporting words dotted here and there elsewhere.

When we have even a yellow flag up in our minds about a certain subject, we should at least stop, and consider. Red lights, no, even if someone ought to say something. Maybe it’s not we ourselves. Perhaps someone will be gifted by God to help as needed in a situation, but we may not have the call and gift that goes with that to do so. It is best on those occasions to simply pray, not only for what troubles us, but for ourselves, and our response to that. James would say that we should at least be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to anger (James 1). That we should speak words that are helpful to the hearer. And if there’s a needed word on a hard subject, we must look for wisdom from God and God’s word for ourselves first. Maybe after we’ve taken it in well for ourselves, God might be able to use us to help others. But it will mainly be through our lives. The point James gets to next.

pure religion

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Religion and relationship in scripture actually go together. From the time when people started to invoke or call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), right up to the present time when we gather in buildings, and partake of Holy Communion, we participate in a kind of religious service led by someone with a liturgy all its own, even if not liturgical in its emphasis. And we’re told in the Old/First Testament that to know God means to help those in need, perhaps getting more precisely in line with the point James is making here:

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

Jeremiah 22:15-17

James echoes something of both the Old Testament wisdom, and here, of the prophets. To know God is to begin to know something of the heart of God. And God’s heart goes out to the poor and displaced. Those who profess to know and worship God must begin to have the same heart for others. Otherwise their profession of faith is empty. Specifically here in caring for widows and orphans in their distress, which can include and group in the same category today.

James, as he does in this short letter, especially in our chapter 3, really focuses on the tongue, our speech, and learning to hold it in check. If anyone considers themselves religious, James says, but fails to keep a tight rein on their tongue, their religion is suspect at best, in fact in God’s eyes, worthless. And they deceive themselves. We often can say all the right things, but fail to follow through with action. And James will get to that in this letter. But that’s not the point here. Rather it’s about a loose tongue which more often than not is quite destructive. And the rest of the letter, particularly chapter 3 informs what James is referring to here.

We should be known as Christians for what we do in helping those in need, not in what we’re saying, particularly when it comes to issues which can end up being critical and disrespectful of others. And make no mistake, such speech can be right on the tip of our tongues. That’s why James says here that we’re to keep a tight rein on our tongues. We have to bridle as in controlling our tongues, and not let them have their way in words which ultimately will be helpful to no one. And even deceptive to us, perhaps in the sense of putting us on the wrong track when we think we’re in the right, though often we should know better.

And to keep ourselves from being unstained or unpolluted by the world. We have to be aware and beware in this regard. We need to develop a humble ability to see through what the world holds dear, mostly by developing a stronger commitment to keep a single eye and heart on what God holds as important for us, individually and together. In and through Jesus.

a godly processing, instead of an ungodly reaction

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. 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 1:19-21

How often in our lives have we blurted out something in reaction to some difficulty? Our first “natural” yet sinful response is often to fly off the handle and utter a few choice words under our breath. Or maybe to speak our mind when something is being said, particularly when it seems to be somehow threatening to us.

The point here, and what James is getting at is that we need to train ourselves to be different. One can say James makes that point when he tells us in addressing the problem of anger and quick speech (along with slow listening) to rid ourselves of all moral filth and the evil so prevalent, instead humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us.

We need to process things in light of God’s truth in Jesus. There may be times when we need to speak right away, not later. But if we are developing along these lines, such times can be more marked with humility, and a heart ready to listen. And always imbued with grace, but a grace that does not leave truth behind. James is strong in pointing to truth and not mincing words, but he’s also strong on a wisdom which helps us receive as well as share that truth with others (see 3:13-18). In and through Jesus.

whether or not we should offend, and the offense of the cross

We live in a society and culture riddled with ridicule and lacking in honor and respect. And some Christians have played their hand, so to speak, right into it.

It is one thing to strongly disagree, and make that disagreement known in no uncertain terms with reference to the issues. It’s another thing entirely to join in the ridicle and innuendo which mark so much of the political speak and culture today. I don’t think Christians should have anything to do with that.

And yet there are even Christians who think that somehow the most disparaging remarks about the loathsomeness of this or that political candidate in terms of insult and character assassination are quite alright for them to engage in.

And yet we have God’s word to us Christians that we are to be quiet, to mind our own business, to work hard with our hands so as to gain the respect of unbelievers, to be ready to answer anyone who asks about the hope we have.

Some will appeal to some of the harsh words of Paul from scripture, for example against the Judaizers who ultimately were undermining the faith of the gospel. Or even Jesus had a few harsh or deragatory words for certain ones, for example calling King Herod a fox.

Well, I’m not Jesus, neither am I an apostle. Our lives in and like Jesus are to be marked with blessing even those who curse us. So when we do express disagreement in our democratic society, we should do so being careful not to disparage those we disagree with. That does present itself with a challenge. For example, recently a presidential candidate said something about another candidate which I found nauseating in terms of not only taste, but lack of commitment to truth telling. Slander seems to be almost the rule of the day. I let my thought be known on social media as far as my reaction to what was done, without lighting into the person. Their action in those words spoken, spoke for itself.

The gospel precisely in terms of the cross is by itself an offense to the world. It puts into question the power play of the world, as well as how the world thinks it can win the day. And that critique is devastating across the board. We simply need to be faithful to Christ, faithful to the gospel, and we will face trouble and suffering for our stand in this world, even if here in the United States our suffering is either mimimal or nothing at all.

We are to take a stand for the gospel and for what is right and just, both, and I think in that order, so that the stand for righteousness is taken with deference to the gospel, in other words with concern for our witness in reaching out to the marginalized and even despised. Certain battles are either not worth fighting, or can even be detrimental to the cause for which we live, at the very least, in the ways they are fought.

And so we need to be known both for what we don’t as well as actually do say. With the goal of making not ourselves, but Jesus known. And God’s salvation and good will in him.

 

a true undermining of the violence of our day

David E. Fitch originally tweeted this I think, and Facebooked it as well:

Anabaptists see violence in war/guns and urge resistance. I see it in the antagonisms of ideology and urge discernment in how we participate.

Along with this post: To Pastors Everywhere: Let’s Discern the Antagonisms.

This reminds me of the end of James 3:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Given today’s violence and accompanying violent rhetoric, it’s important as followers of Jesus to be known not only for our stand against all physical violence, but that we are not a people given to violence in any form. That doesn’t mean for a moment that we don’t speak up on issues or fail to proclaim the gospel. It does mean that we do so at appropriate times, and that we choose what to speak on and what to let go. And when we do speak to do so with a listening ear and a gentle, yet firm voice.

This requires a wisdom beyond us. A wisdom that results in peacemaking. But a peace in terms of the gospel. So that at certain junctures there may even be the need for civil disobedience. But that by and large we would be known for the alternative society we’re to be in Jesus, which includes an entirely different ethic in regard to our speech. Refusing to engage in a war of words, even while at times speaking truth to power, and majoring on the truth of the gospel.

stilling the tongue

If we take scripture seriously, and we Christians say we do*, then we should place a premium on keeping a tight rein on our tongue. In fact James tells us unless we do that, our religion is worthless. Religion there I think simply having to do with the profession as well as practice of one’s faith. James has a section in which the destructiveness of the tongue is underscored. And Proverbs has plenty to say about what we say. Along with Jesus and the rest of scripture.

I am an open person. In earlier years to a fault, though more guarded overall as I get older, except for close friends and trusted people. Expressing my views, or exposing myself as to my struggles, weaknesses or failures–has often proved to be unwise. What is difficult is keeping one’s mouth shut when one has been or is being wronged. Rather than lashing out, or trying to defend one’s self.

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes). Jesus concerning his sufferings, is said to have been silent as a sheep is before its shearers, that he did not open his mouth. We see that during the trial before his crucifixion. And yet at a certain point he did open his mouth in challenging and asking why he was being struck.

Christians in some quarters were once known as the quiet in the land. Indeed we’re told by Peter that we’re to mind our own business, work hard with our hands, so that our lives may gain the respect of outsiders. Instead we’re in an uproar over politics, or the world’s culture or beliefs. Vociferously insistently loud. It is a different dynamic to be sure, living in America. But does scripture no longer apply here, or more precisely how do we apply it? The world is still the world, along with the flesh and the devil. I fear we get caught up in a system of harmful verbiage. When rather we ought to be engaging the world first by how we live, as well as by gentle, respectful reasoning in dialog. As part of our witness. Not to deny the need also for proclamation at the right times.

But back to my own personal concern. I want to pray along with the psalmist that the Lord would set a guard over my lips. That I would not let my lips spew out what ends up being the fire of hell, however right I think my words are. That I will learn to entrust all things to God. And love those who have been hurtful, careless, or less than gracious in their own speech.

Rather I want to speak words of grace according to the truth that is in Jesus. Along with others in Jesus. And especially to God for his help. That I will know what to say, or will say what is helpful and wise, as well as gracious. With others in Jesus as we grow together toward maturity in him, as his witnesses before the world.

*That is not meant to be disparaging of others. I think of myself, and my own propensity to, as James says, hear the word, know what it’s saying, and yet not do it, and so deceive myself.

slow to speak, slow to anger

Scripture tells us repeatedly that we should listen well, speak carefully, and hold off anger. It is easy to be angry in this world where injustice is found everywhere. And we ourselves can be unfairly judged. I am discovering more and more the good of addressing the problem by prayers which likely will include the need for personal confession over my wrong reactions to the perceived injustice. Then go on reflecting on God’s will revealed in Scripture, and keep pondering and praying over that.

When we are upset over something it is surely usually the better of wisdom to keep our mouths shut. When we want to speak the most is often when we ought to speak the least. And when we’re reticent to speak may be a time for us to speak up in gentleness and humility, even with conviction.

Prior to James’ words for us to be slow to speak and become angry, he tells us to be quick to listen. We do need to listen well, and let the other person explain. And in a conversation to continue to listen so that there actually is a dialogue going on, as opposed to a monologue. That is where true learning on both sides can occur.

Jesus was full of grace and truth. He suffered injustice yet during such times often refused to speak. He was entrusting himself to his Father. This is the way for all of us through and in him.

What might you like to add to these thoughts?