no words needed

But we urge you, beloved…, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

1 Peter 3:1-2

We recently watched a dated PBS documentary, The Amish: People of Preservation (1975), John L. Ruth, John A. Hostettler. Less than an hour, worth the watch. One of the points made was that the Amish ordinarily say little or nothing at all. They believe their lives should speak to outsiders, even I suppose to each other. They certainly talk among themselves, and their preachers go on and on in their worship services.

That spoke to me, and I remember what James tells us:

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

James 1:19-20

There’s nothing important than the way we live, and why we live that way. Whatever truth is out there is much more caught than taught. “Do as I say, not as I do,” does little or no good for anyone. God wants to break through to where we live, where the rubber meets the road, not just here and there or in a few things, but in everything. And we can be thankful for that. In and through Jesus.

keeping close accounts

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:5-2:2

It is so important to keep a close account in our walk with God in Christ before others. There is no doubt that we sin along the way in thoughts and attitudes, sometimes in words and actions. Hopefully as we go along and grow the latter will become less and less, that God would grant us more and more the wisdom to avoid such. But at times we will. And definitely we will fall into less than godly, loving thoughts and attitudes.

We need sensitivity before God, before the light of God to recognize our darkness, what is wrong. Then we need to confess such to God and if need be to anyone we’ve offended.

Thankfully God has made provision for us and for the world in Christ. Our sins are taken care of in Christ, through his atoning work. Again, all we have to do is acknowledge them along the way. Even as seek not to sin, just as John tells us in the passage above. In and through Jesus.

Augustine: Love, and do what you will.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5

The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.

1 Timothy 1:5; MSG

Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good. …

Augustine

Augustine’s quote is taken to mean that one can do whatever they feel like and want to do if they love God. But that’s not precisely what Augustine meant, and can open us up to misunderstanding. His point in the context of his sermon was that whatever we do is to be done out of love. Love for God and love for neighbor flowing together. As revealed in Christ in his fulfillment of God’s will. And then everything we do if done in that way will be good.

I think a good way to assess our actions and thoughts, indeed the fruit of our lives is to ask ourselves whether love for God and for our neighbor is our motivation and animating impulse, what moves us. If so, then we’re living in God’s grace as God intends for us in Christ. If not, then we’re living in something else, foreign to that grace. Sometimes we may simply be struggling to accept God’s love and then live in that love at all. God understands those times. We should still try to love, even when the sense of it is far removed from us. But make no mistake, the God who is love as John points out elsewhere and Paul as well, wants us to live in love, in everything we think, do and say. In and through Jesus. 

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.

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.

 

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.

finding true wisdom

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.

James 3:13-18

Oftentimes, at least I can speak for myself, we need to step back and be quiet and let God speak to us. Nowadays we hear a storm of words and we can all too easily get caught up in that. Instead we need to hear God’s word to us, let that impact and soak into our lives. Then our lives even without words can speak volumes to others. A part of the wisdom available to us in and through Jesus.

 

God and God’s love is behind his word

ח Heth

You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
teach me your decrees.

Psalm 119:57-64

When we hear a person speak, it all depends on what we know about them, and especially our own relationship with them to understand just how we should take in their words. Words by themselves strain to be understood apart from their underlying tone and the heart behind them.

We can be assured that with God’s word there’s all of love behind each one. Even God’s words of wrath and judgment come full brim out of a heart of love which at some point must see justice done. We know of the full demonstration and depth of that love in Jesus and the cross.

So when we turn to God’s word, we can be assured that behind it is God and God’s love. Greater than can be imagined by us. But poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And so we turn to the word again and again to find the face of God. The face of love through and through forever. And to live according to that. In and through Jesus.