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.

turning our attention to that which will last

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Discernment is the call of the day. I suppose people will pay attention to different things, depending on what they consider valuable and good. We have to go back to God’s revelation in Jesus, found in Scripture. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us, and faithful leaders and teachers in the church committed to such.

There’s much that clamors for our attention. We need to be careful what we give our attention to both in terms of substance and time. Some things may be fine here and there, but not incessantly. While other things we may need to turn away from, or avoid all together.

As we practice this, we will more and more be able to see through that which is hollow, not meeting these standards. We need to humbly push toward what is the best and leave the rest behind. Even as we seek to help those caught in the lesser things. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

the best kind of teaching

There are gifted teachers who sometimes help us see things we’ve never seen before. Two of them who have influenced me in my lifetime are N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight.  Both have helped many. Interestingly, McKnight, who has been a professor for many years (as well as a scholar and writer) teaches in a way to challenge others to have to grapple with what he’s saying, and put it together for themselves. He doesn’t necessarily put everything together, but enough so that the listener can figure it out for themselves. He wants interactivity, might be the bottom line. I really hesitate to speak for someone else, but I think that’s part of what’s going on. McKnight’s books do present a coherent whole. But part of the best kind of teaching is to get the listener to work through it themselves, not simply give ready made answers, so that the listener just passively receives that. The goal is to make learners or disciples who in our way of putting it, will learn to think critically, to think for themselves, but at the same time know how along with others to begin to follow Christ, to be the church. Of course the anointing of the Spirit is present in Jesus to teach us as well (1 John 2) as we wrestle through what is being taught.

We have been taking our grandchildren to Ada Bible Church, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how much I have liked it, usually wanting to avoid mega churches. Their ministry to children, and their simple straightforward teaching of scripture, with an emphasis on application is most helpful. And what I think it gets the listener to do is learn to engage with the text in the same way as it’s being taught. Another example of the best kind of teaching.

The first from McKnight is more challenging, and especially important for an academic setting. But I’m sure McKnight engages in something of the same that Ada Bible Church does. It’s not like he doesn’t give answers, but it’s more like he’s drawing out students to work through it for themselves, so that they might not only find such answers, but come up with something fresh themselves. Ada Bible Church’s task as a church is in part to feed and take care of the Lord’s sheep. And a big part of that is to help us learn to help ourselves, of course while under and following the Good Shepherd.

Where I work, Our Daily Bread Ministries, I believe does something of the same in its worldwide ministry, which I have come to appreciate more and more.

All of this to help us come to faith, and grow up together toward full maturity in Christ.

 

dependency on teachers

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Acts 17:11-12

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:27

As it is well said, it’s better to teach a person how to fish than make them dependent on someone who fishes for them. The best teachers in the church are those who help the listeners grow up into maturity in the faith through the gospel, and be not only students of the word, but lovers of God and people. Of course that love rooted in the gospel which is the expression of God’s love to us and to the world in and through Jesus.

Poor teaching and teachers make people dependent on them and their books. The older I get, the less I take notes. I used to be a big note taker. At the same time though, the older I get, the more I appreciate teachers who make one think, and challenge their faith in ways which build us up toward being more like Jesus, and knowing God better. In the ways of faith and love.

The passages quoted above tell us to keep searching the scriptures, and that means all of them, the Old Testament as well. And to trust the Holy Spirit to help us right now, today, and in the long haul as well.

We need understanding for life, which scripture is meant to give us. Life in community in Jesus, and for others for whom Jesus died, which means everyone.

But again Jesus makes himself and God’s good news and will known by his Spirit, using teachers, but not dependent on any one of them.