we can, and must, do better, my brothers and sisters; much better

 

CursingOver the course of the past few weeks I’ve kept a running list of the some of the words I’ve commonly heard or seen used as folks of adult age discuss gun control in our country today.

In order to make the list, I had to have heard or seen the same word used more than once, expressed on at least two different occasions, by the same person. I kept no record at all of who said what, but I did keep record of the precise words that were chosen and used to describe others with whom the individual disagreed.

I stopped keeping the list when I hit the twenty mark. Why? Quite frankly: because I was sick of it. Are you curious as to contents of the list? If so, here it is, in alphabetical order.

  • a__holes
  • bast____
  • bitc___
  • boneheads
  • degenerates
  • dic__
  • fools
  • idiots
  • jackasses
  • jerks
  • low lifes
  • morons
  • nutjobs
  • retards
  • sh__heads
  • sh___
  • sickos
  • son of a bitc___
  • wack jobs
  • wackos

Now what grieves me most is what I didn’t mention before: all of these words were spoken or typed by my brothers and sisters in Christ who quite commonly make their way through church house doors. And I don’t mean they’re guests; I mean they wear the name of Christ, our Lord and Savior, and have for at least several years. In fact, in many cases, for decades.

To be sure, we all sin, and in many ways. Christians are no exception. God have mercy on us all! And put me at the head of the line of those who need to repent daily of the way I word things at times, whether silently in my head or aloud in print or in audible speech. But make no mistake about it: a world is watching and listening closely to our witness of the Christ we claim to believe and follow … and they are not at all impressed, but only repulsed, when we speak and act so. When they hear and see such they call us hypocrites, and rightly so, and become hardened all the more in their unbelief.

Which brings a Scripture to my mind. John tells us there are three kinds of sin in this world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2.16). I dare say the preceding list can proceed from only one source: pure, unadulterated pride. Hmmm.

And so, may we all hear again the words of our Lord and Savior. May we hear them like never before. May we write them on our heart. May they cause us to become thoroughly disgusted with our speech. May they cause us to change our perception of others and go on to change in every way; to repent. May our speech be brought to complete submission to our Lord. To his glory and praise. For it is our Lord who speaks pointedly to us still when he says:

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5.21-22, The Message)

whoever insults or criticizes

Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it. (James 4:11 CEB)

With apologies, and thanks, in advance to John Lennon, sing along with me, won’t you?

Imagine there’s no insults
It’s easy if you try
No hell within us
Around us, no lies
Imagine all the people
Living for the Lord

Imagine there’s no criticism
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to slam or gripe for
No fake religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Holy Father in heaven, let your imagination take root and spread so that the absence of insults and criticism on the lips of your people is what your people are known for. And Father, in the name of Jesus, begin that work with me. Amen.

Wicked words about each other must not be your way, my brothers and sisters. Anyone who insults or criticizes any of Christ’s kin insults and criticizes God’s Rule. If you can’t relate to God’s Rule, you don’t play by the Rule. And if you don’t play by the Rule, you’ve set yourself up over God’s Rule. (James 4:11 DSV)

So imagine and so be it.

picture Bible commentary

When punctuation goes AWOL, what a difference it makes in meaning!

“Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it.” (James 4:11)

journey through James (16): twenty questions on James 4:1-12

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 6) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 4:1-12. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: learning how to grow toward God and away from Satan, selfishness, and sin. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty exercises and questions.

Scripture

What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? (2) You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. (3) You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.

(4) You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? (5) Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? (6) But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble. (7) Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. (8) Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

(11) Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you? (James 4:1-12 CEB)

Exercises & questions

1. List all of the things we know that God does or will do in light of the teaching of this text.

2. List all of the sins you see directly referenced or implied in this passage that were apparently common among the Christians to whom James originally wrote.

3. List what we know about the devil from what is directly stated or implied in this passage.

4. List all of the direct commands given to Christians in this Scripture.

5. Clearly, selfishness is a huge problem among the Christians to whom James is writing. How big a problem would you say selfishness is among Christians in our country today? Explain.

6. Given the immediate context (and other passages in James such as 5:6), would you say the reference to “murder” in vs. 2 is literal or figurative? Explain.

7. “You long for something you don’t have …” (vs.2). Good thing we don’t have that problem anymore, huh? Comment on our culture’s “cravings” and how we Christians often share the same cravings.

8. Struggle and fighting among Christians is sin and comes from sin. What sort of sins does James say fueled the struggles and fights he references in vs.1-3?

9. What does vs.2-3 teach you about prayer?

10. What does vs.3 have to say about the common teaching known as the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel?

11. Given what is said in vs.4, would you say it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation?

12. Verse 5-6b is notoriously difficult text to translate. Notice the variation in rendering by comparing the passage in several different English translations.

13. What does James mean that God “gives us more grace” (vs.6)?

14. Paul says God does not play favorites (Romans 2:11) and yet, here James says God “favors the humble” (vs.6b)? How can both of these statements be true, or can they be?

15. Given the context, what would you say might happen to a person if God draws near to them (vs.8a)?

16. What does it mean to be “double-minded?” (vs.8b)

17. As surely as we’re called to “rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4), we’re also called to “mourn” our sins (vs.8-10). How can a Christian do both of these things?

18. James says criticizing, disrespecting, insulting, or mistreating other Christians is akin to put yourself in the place of God (vs.10-12). What accounts elsewhere in Scripture come to your mind when you think of people (wittingly or unwittingly) putting themselves in God’s place?

19. James is using every possible means of persuasion as he urges the Christians to whom he is writing to get their act together. Try to list the various motivations James appeals to in this text. Which do you find most powerful or persuasive?

20. This much is certain from this passage: church life can sometimes resemble be hell on earth. What advice, derived from this text or elsewhere in Scripture, would you give to a new or troubled Christians who found themselves in the middle of a selfish church caught up in civil war among themselves?

avoiding worthlessness

“If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless.” (James 1:26 CEB)

“Here I am Father with my checklist. What do you think?”

  1. Read my Bible daily. Check.
  2. Say “grace” before every meal, private or public. Check.
  3. In the church house every time the doors are open and I can be there. Check.
  4. Attend and participate in Bible classes. Check.
  5. Regularly drop a meaningful amount of my income in the contribution plate. Check.
  6. Wear a smile and a deliberately display a pleasant, public demeanor. Check.
  7. Serve as I can, leading prayer, working the nursery, passing communion, greeting guests. Check.
  8. Actively participate in small groups and other ministries. Check.
  9. Volunteering, being quick and eager to do whatever is asked of me by church leaders. Check.
  10. Looking after folks I’ve heard are sick or are in trouble, praying and doing what I can. Check.
  11. Often invite people to come to church with me. Check.
  12. Have done all of the above for years upon years. Check.

“So, Father, how did I do? What’s my score?”

“Zero.”

“What?!”

“Worthless.”

“What on earth do you mean?!”

  1. Your cutting, whispered words in the corridor leave other people bleeding inside.
  2. Your idle talk and gossip cause great, damaging stress to my Son’s body.
  3. Your flattery to try to gain personal advantage feeds the cynicism and skepticism of others.
  4. Your speculative speech and insinuations cause people to cry themselves to sleep at night.
  5. Your dismissive way of speaking to some adds great weight to people’s already heavy burdens.
  6. Your camouflaged insults tears down respect for truly good people.
  7. Your demeaning conversations with your mate has turned their spirit cold, and not just to you.
  8. Your slanderous words about people with whom you disagree, callouses people’s hearts.
  9. Your flippant comments lead others to blindness as to the seriousness of what’s going on.
  10. Your speech that says to your children they never quite measure up sucks the life out of them.
  11. Your colorful language on the job, all in the name of “just doing business,” tarnishes My name.
  12. Your silence when a good word is desperately needed is damning.

“But … but … doesn’t anything I’ve shown you count for anything?”

“My child, what you say, and how you say it, tells me who you are, and whose you really are, down deep inside.”

Heavenly Father, remind me frequently throughout every day of the amazing gift you’ve given me: a tongue that can speak as Jesus spoke. Remind even more often of the even greater gift you’ve given me: a conscience/mind informed by Christ. In the name of my Lord and Savior, help me to always use those two gifts together. Amen.

“People can appear to be devoted to God, but if they don’t keep a tight rein on their words, they’re only tricking themselves if they think their ‘devotion’ is worth anything.” (James 1:26 DSV)

from the heart

“Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate? That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer.” … “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” he [Jesus] said. “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.” (Mark 7: 18-19a,20-23 CEB)