the tongue and the word

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

James is a book that’s down to earth, and pulls little or no punches. It gets to the point. Like all the other biblical books, it is best read in context, both immediate as well as in its entirety. And then of course we consider that in light of similar biblical passages which in the case of James would be gospel accounts with related teaching from our Lord, as well as the wisdom book, Proverbs. And then in the context of all the rest of scripture.

In the passage above, we’re told to be good listeners, and slow both to speak and to become angry, as if somehow those two might be tied together. What James might have been getting at in part is how we react when someone is saying something. We may be tempted to push back even hard with what we see as a corrective statement. Instead the biblical text commends listening, and being quiet. And offering a word only after deliberation, and never in the heat of the moment, if we offer anything at all.

But we shouldn’t stop there, but read the rest of the passage. Which tells us for that reason we’re to clean house and humbly accept God’s word into our lives.

I find for myself that being in the word does help me avoid some of the pitfalls of life. But we are still weak and often prone to wander off into our own spaces. When we ought to remain in God’s space through his word in scripture and in Christ.

And so we need to keep at it, over and over again, day after day. Not letting up, but continuing in God’s word, which can save us from the sin we can so easily slip into. And into a life which is much better. Something we don’t just step into overnight, but more like gradually grow into. In and through Jesus.

 

 

Advertisements

anger and grace don’t mix

26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4

Literally, it’s “Be angry,” but the NIV probably captures the meaning well, since it likely is not an actual command to be angry, but rather an accommodation. In fact it is not saying that anger in itself is sin, but suggesting that it can lead to, or become sin.

Ephesians quotes from Psalm 4 (see other translations from the link below, and notice the context):

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
    Think about it overnight and remain silent. Interlude

Psalm 4:4: NLT

It might be okay to be angry. Anger is dangerous, and best avoided. But sometimes anger is not only acceptable and justified, but it might even be right. Of course the Lord’s anger is always right, what is called righteous anger. And given the evil in the world, it can surely sometimes be quite wrong not to be angry.

But justifiable anger needs to be given over to the Lord in prayer. We most likely will have to confess what is sin in our anger to God. We have to let it go, or at least give it to God as best we can. And we have to counter it with mercy extended to the one who might be in the wrong. Or dealing with the issue of just why we’re angry. Of course the Psalm 4 passage is good on this. Silence is most often wise, especially in the face of what is angering us, or most likely to. We dare not forget the deadly demonic force the tongue can be (James 3).

Anger and grace don’t mix. Do we want to endeavor to walk with God, and hear from God through his word? Then we dare not harbor anger. That opens the door to the devil, and to all the deception that comes with that. It is more than not worth it. It is bad in and of itself.

So no matter what the case, let’s deal with what is provoking or troubling us as best we can: in prayer, silence, pondering, more prayer, and definitely as well endeavoring to listen to God through God’s word. In and through Jesus.

rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

avoiding gossip

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

Proverbs 26

Gossiping is one of the themes covered in the book of Proverbs. It carries the idea of talking about others behind their back in disparaging ways, usually in a way that highlights their supposed character defects, or whatever perceived weaknesses they have. It often refers to something that has happened, or is going on. It ends up being a moral sickness for those who practice it, and for others who participate in that practice by merely listening. Listening and taking it in, as the passage quoted above indicates, is just as much to participate in it, as the actual gossiper, at least in how it affects the one who listens. By listening, one is affirming what the gossiper is doing.

It becomes more tricky when one just throws in some kind of slant about someone in the midst of what otherwise is normal talk. That is when one should be on guard in their heart not to be taken in, maybe ask a question, or say something which puts into question what is said, and perhaps exonerates the one who has been belittled.

To be a gossip means to have a moral sickness of heart. It is rampant in our society, it seems. Instead of talking about issues, we impugn the character of those we disagree with. And everyone more or less ends up doing that, so that it becomes a vicious cycle. And this affects those who don’t, so that they have to work at not doing the same, even while under their breath perhaps doing so.

We have to learn to hate this kind of practice, and a large part of that is to love the truth, and honesty. And graciousness of thought and speech is essential for this, as well. We should think the best of others, and when we see them fail, hope for better. We need the same grace ourselves from others.

Honesty and truth telling, and above all, being gracious in both thinking and seeking the best for others is essential. If we have a problem with someone, we should go to that person and talk to them, oftentimes clearing up a misunderstanding in the process. And when an offensive behavior persists, we should be slow to go to anyone else, of course depending on what the issue is, and what kind of help that person might need.

And we need to watch ourselves. Especially our hearts to avoid the damage which can be inflicted on others through our tongues. Instead we need to speak the truth in love and as it is in Jesus, and keep looking to Jesus and God’s good news in him, as we look at everything else. Seeing all through that, with the hope that brings for us all.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin 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.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

the problem with politics: the tongue

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3

There is good reason why at many dinnertables of the past, the discussion of politics (and religion, I might add) was forbidden. The heat in such discourses most often blocks whatever light might be present. It becomes a personal struggle, but it seems even more than that.

Let’s say a discussion, either a dialog, or more likely a lot of monolog goes on in regard to politics among adults who think they’re mature enough to handle it. Before long, at least in my experience, something quite disparaging, and actually judgmental of people’s characters is usually sooner than later said. And most of the time the others not only passively take this in, but noddingly agree.

Would that there could be some genuine political discussion. The world needs it both in terms of style and substance. Instead it normally becomes a diatribe against a party or politician. What is most awful is how others who might deviate from such talk are frowned or scoffed at, and if persisting looked down upon. I wonder why that’s so.

I think in a fundamental sense scripturally, that world government and the politics that is a part of it is a domain of what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil. Yes, God is sovereign in control, in that sovereignty allowing nations and leaders a certain kind of free will, but ruling and overruling, raising up one government official and putting down another one. Even raising up governments and putting other governments down. In ways we actually can’t trace or understand well, if at all.

It takes special character, indeed special anointing of grace from God to traverse such circles and do well in them. I can’t help but think of Daniel. But when we see his interaction in the kingdoms he served as a servant of God, we see plenty of trouble coming his way, and the way of others who so served with him.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised at the heat which comes out of our own hearts and onto our lips out of our mouth, in words which too often have more heat than light, straight from the pit of hell. We are playing with fire. We do better to step back, take note of this, speak less, listen more, pray, and consider this an opportunity to grow in the grace of humility and meekness, knowing that our total devotion and unconditional allegiance is to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus. Even as we pray for those in governmental positions, and seek to be a witness to the nation in which we live of the good news of the kingdom which is outside of Satan’s domain, and destined to crush his rule once for all and forever.

keeping one’s body in check

James tells us that one who controls their tongue is able to keep the rest of their body in check. That could mean that if our words are marked by holiness (truth and love in Jesus), the rest of our life follows.

What gets us in trouble, even if we are only speaking to ourselves? The tongue. That is why the psalmist (attributed to David) asks God to set a watch over their tongue. Otherwise the psalmist is afraid they’ll be drawn to do evil. Getting to the core of that, we do wrong when our actions including our words are not in line with loving God with all our being and doing and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So it is best to check our impulses and not act on many of them. Particularly when it’s about saying something which while we may be thinking it, is not particularly edifying in itself and potentially destructive of another. And we need to bring such thoughts to God. Oftentimes in confession of sin along with prayers such as we find in the psalms. We’re going to find often enough that our thoughts and judgments were awry, off the mark. And we are reminded again by James that we’re not qualified to stand in judgment of others, anyhow. As scripture elsewhere reminds us, we first need to judge ourselves. Often what we think we see in others is what we already know exists in ourselves. We fail to judge ourselves. Until we do that, we can’t help anyone, even when they could use our input. In such matters of course, we would have to tread ever so lightly and slowly.

So today and everyday we need to slow down, calm down, and keep a lot of our thoughts to ourselves and God. We need to focus on our own problems and be an example to others of those who follow the Lord with their tongues and then all the rest of their body.