Reawakening Manners and Morality in Men

Who Goes There, Part 2

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Christian author Rick Morgan.

In the previous article, we looked at the qualities of integrity, righteousness and truth that define the man who abides in the presence of God, taken from verse 2 of Psalm 15. This poem written to the denizens of heaven deserves another look, and we’ll start at verse 3:

Ps 15:3
He does not slander with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

This man of God, who has woven the qualities of godliness into his life at every level, is now described in terms of how he treats others. These are the visible attributes of the character described in verse 2. The first three clauses are negatives, stating what this man does not do: he does not slander, he does no evil to his neighbor, and he does not attack the character of his friend.

The word that is translated by “slander” is the Hebrew word “regel” which means, oddly enough, the foot. In the original language this word was used as an idiom for traveling or patrolling through an area, placing the feet in a place to indicate discovery or arrival. We might translate this passage as: “He does not walk through the life of another with his tongue”, or more literally, “He does not set foot with his tongue”. There’s an interesting picture. We could imagine a man who verbally explores the life of another by conjecturing about his life with gossip; leaving trash and muddy footprints all through the character of someone for the sake of entertaining small-talk. Its like sneaking into another man’s orchard to steal some apples and then carving initials into some of the trees to pass the time. Doing harm out of boredom.

The fact that this man does no evil to his neighbor (the next clause) seems rather obvious- Jesus summarized all the law and the prophets under the heading of Love, and doing evil overtly contradicts all that love teaches us. We don’t really need to ask whether or not we should do evil, even the pagan understands that position; bad is bad. However we could ask what evil is. This is really what so much of our moral debate is about today. Many in the secular world shy away from applying the term “evil” because it implies a moral judgment that they find offensive. For the Christian, however, this question is easily defined. Evil is whatever God says it is. Not only that, but evil can be understood as the antithesis of good. In verse 2 of this psalm, we saw godly goodness defined as integrity, righteousness, and truth. Thus, evil would be hypocrisy, unrighteousness, and dishonesty. Jesus’ axiom of love is that whatever is unloving is evil. Not tolerance, but love. (We will discuss the vulgar abuse of the term “tolerance” by our culture some other time.)

In the third statement, to “take up a reproach” is an awkward term in modern English, but the sense from the Hebrew is to cast scorn upon, or to defame or dishonor another. Much more than gossip as mentioned above, this is to impute blame in order to harm the character of someone. Here, the goal is to urge others to doubt the moral fiber of the person. This is the worst of the three ideas in this verse, being an attack on the very core of another; trying to intentionally damage them in the forum of public opinion. The idea of “taking up a reproach” suggests to give ear to such things. We must never be eager to listen to these attacks any more than we should be willing to repeat them.

In these three statements there is an ascending order of harm. Gossip or tale bearing hurts by speculating on their lives, and generating innuendo. Taking some evil action hurts more by placing someone at a disadvantage in their lives. Scorning hurts most of all as it viciously attacks the soul of the person. We have not only chosen to entertain ourselves at the expense of others, we have a variety of flavors to keep it from getting dull. Sometimes we indulge in the milder forms of this character assassination and then celebrate our restraint.

That wind of conviction that you feel blows upon us all. These things ought not to be. Are our lives so devoid of interesting things to talk about that we must casually vandalize the integrity of others just to fill the air with our petty noises? Jesus said that we will be judged for every casual word we utter. In a culture filled with talking heads spewing endless chatter, perhaps our greatest Christian witness might be to just shut up. We could proclaim the Gospel in silence by living holy lives and refusing to be caught up in the endless diatribe; that would make us really stand out among those who don’t know Christ. Then, when they ask, we will finally have something to say that is worthy of the air in our lungs.

There is another phrase in this psalm that is one of my favorite statements of the Old Testament.

Ps 15:4
He swears to his own hurt, and does not change;

This also deals with the wagging tongues of men, but calls us to consider the promises we make. I am convinced that if this axiom was consistently applied to our lives, we would, on this basis alone, be known as men of integrity. Keeping the promises that are easy is no measure of character. Everyone shows up when the task is easy or fun. But what do we do when the obligation is greater than we anticipated, or we would rather be somewhere else? How enthusiastic are we when we realize that the pledge we made will become a real sacrifice?

The problem is that we separate what we claim from what we do. We make a promise and then fail to keep it because the terms were not what we anticipated. This is not a failure of circumstance, it is a failure of our character. When we obligate ourselves, that verbal pronouncement becomes a contract. To go back on our word is to devalue all that we say or claim; it reduces the significance of all our words. If we do this enough times no one will take us seriously, nor should they. Our words are the currency of our conversation, and the gold behind that currency is our action. Without the weight of action, the currency of our speech becomes useless for any exchange, and our only hope becomes a career in politics. God forbid.

In many cases we are guilty of simply saying “yes” too quickly. It is pleasing to respond with an enthusiastic affirmative when some great idea comes along, but then reality sets in and we wish had not volunteered so readily. If we connect action to word before we speak at all, we would be forced to count the cost of what we are about to say before our words commit us to a potential loss. When the phrase “swears to his own hurt” is used, it doesn’t mean we make promises that we know will harm us, it means that once the obligation is discovered to be more than we bargained for, we don’t back down. We have committed the weight of our character to the task, and the commitment is based on our promise, not our later regrets.

Once again, it seems the best policy is to just shut up. Stop and consider what will be involved before saying anything. This is not to say that we should never step up to an obligation, but we should realize that once we say it, its as good as done. There is no turning back.

The Rubicon is a river in northern Italy which marked the southern border of Caesar’s province of Gaul. When Julius Caesar crossed that river with his army in 49 bc, that event was considered an act of war. Since then, the term “crossing the Rubicon” has become a metaphor for passing the point of no return. When we open our mouth and promise something, we have crossed the Rubicon. We are completely obligated at that moment, and nothing less than our integrity is on the line.

On wings of deeds the soul must mount!
When we are summoned form afar,
Ourselves and not our words will count-
Not what we said, but what we are!
Wm. Winter

Throughout Psalm 15, the integrity of the godly man is the subject; connecting confession to obligation, and obligation to action. If our beliefs are evidenced by our words and our words are perfectly connected to our actions, then we are living as those who will abide within the tabernacle of God.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Rick is on staff at Calvary Chapel Tucson where he also serves as an elder, and writes to keep his rabbits fed. Fortunately they don’t eat much. Favorite pastimes are watching cheesy movies with his patient and understanding wife, and expending ammunition at inanimate objects. He hopes to have his book “So Excellent a King” published soon, an exposition on the kingship of Christ. Rick has been a Christian for almost 30 years, and in that time has developed an acute sense of his own ignorance and Christ’s truly astounding grace. Aside from writing, he is waiting expectantly for that next big break as a roller derby referee or pin monkey at a bowling alley. Pray for him.

Who Goes There? – Psalm 15

tforward view of what a real man looks like in the eyes of God. Thomas Jefferson famously called this psalm: “The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets, for your imitation.” Huzzas all around.

Psalm 15:1-2
O LORD, who may abide in Thy tent?
Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart.

It starts by asking a question, and giving a response. Question: Who is the man who will abide with and dwell in the presence of God? Response: it’s the guy who has woven integrity, righteousness, and truth into the fabric of his life. This quality of life is expressed in the walk, works, and speech of the man. Extending this fabric metaphor a little, we see the biblical qualities of godliness are nothing less than an essential organic part of the man, just as each thread of fabric combines with the rest to form the whole. We should never think of these things as additions to our lives, but indispensable and necessary components of our person. The life of a godly man is not what he does, but what he is. These characteristics are the very substance of the man, composing the personality of the individual to such an extent that he has no form of expression or conversation without them. They cease to be choices, and become aspects of personhood itself.

God Himself is understood in much the same way. When we look at the characteristics of God we see that He is just, merciful, holy righteous, loving, and so on. These are not optional distinctives that God is exercising at any given time by choice, these are the core realities of God Almighty. He cannot be known without these characteristics, as they are absolute properties of His existence. However, we have the dubious privilege of being able to choose whether or not to follow good or evil- (this is a consequence of the dietary indiscretion recorded in Genesis 3). Possessing this option, we tend to perceive all moral categories as things that we do out of habit or practicality, and not as qualities of personality. This is a fundamental mistake for the Christian.

To integrate these qualities of moral excellence into our minds is the path that God has called us to pursue. He wants transformed creatures who are renewed from the ground up, not people who exhibit the right behavior on cue. Pavlov’s puppy could be taught to slobber at a bell, but God wants far more than bell-trained heathens. We are called to bear His restored image, to represent Him by our very substance and being. The man who is near to God is not there because of some aspect of locality, he is there because of willful imitation of Christ. Heart determines location, not vice-versa. These things flow downhill with intention at the top and action at the bottom, and God commands us to climb. This is a concept theologians call sanctification, and it is the part of our salvation that we actively participate in every day of our lives as believers.

Religious practice, in and of itself, is ultimately behaviorism; the rote alteration of action through controlling the environment and selective education. It cannot change the heart, only the appearance. Science has gone so far down this behaviorist path that it is now widely believed that education alone can actually cure us of our little “problem”. (The fact that intellectual giants can also be perverted moral midgets has apparently been overlooked.) Moralism argues that man can self-correct by an act of supreme will, and good works alone will render mankind holy and acceptable to God. Secular philosophy has simply surrendered to meaninglessness and crawled into a ditch to die. Humanism claims all moral categories are arbitrary, and dismisses higher moral obligation as a myth. The self-interested practical ethics that arise from this are a conflicted nightmare.

All man’s methods eventually lead to this dead end. Beware of it; its more insidious than you think. Working from the outside by exertions of will, environment,  or discipline can, at best, lead only to self-satisfied displays of affected motion, unconnected to any real integrity. At this stage hypocrisy becomes a way of life, and failure is the rancid fruit upon which we will raise our malnourished children.
We can learn much from passages such as this by looking at what this man is not. In these verses, there is no mention of the Law, or of religion, or social reform. The man who abides with God is not there not because he shows up at church four times a week, helps out with the youth group car wash, or painted the pastor’s house. His proximity to the holy hill of God’s tabernacle is not influenced by the amount he puts in the offering, or the fact that he is the head of three different ministries within the church. Never by what he does, but always by who he is.

In a certain sense, we can say that kicking your dog is the same as spitting on the pastor after the sermon. Treating your wife spitefully when no one else is around is the same as abusing her loudly at the church picnic. These things proclaim the character of the man with equal volume before God. We must abolish the idea that a good front is the indicator of anything but our ability to deceive.
Integrity is the key word here, as this Psalm goes on to connect action to thought without any layovers in pretext. For this man, his real disposition is flawlessly articulated in his every action and mood. Our job is not perfect conduct, as this is only the action without the disposition. Our calling is total submission to the transforming Word of God, which empowers both action and intent. Perfect submission is the only way that this righteous expression can occur, because it is completely beyond our own abilities to perform the action in perfect correspondence with the intention. This impossibility is now rendered possible because we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit of God. Our Savior builds within us the renewed mind and transformed heart that yields real integrity of action, with conduct and intent becoming an indivisible singularity within our life.
Jesus, of course, represents this with precision. He stood before a group of His angry critics and said “Which of you accuses Me of sin?” These men, desperate for any excuse to discredit Him, were silenced. May it be that we would silence our critics with equal conviction.

Here we see that Forest Gump had it backwards. Rightly stated, “stupid does as stupid is”. Or, more suited to our purposes (hopefully), godliness does as godliness is. Integrity consists of a man holding truth to his heart first, and then acting accordingly. Thus, the outer man can be in frictionless harmony with the inner man, and also with God’s character.
His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate;
His tears pure messengers, sent from his heart;
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.
Wm. Shakespeare

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Rick is on staff at Calvary Chapel Tucson where he also serves as an elder, and writes to keep his rabbits fed. Fortunately they don’t eat much. Favorite pastimes are watching cheesy movies with his patient and understanding wife, and expending ammunition at inanimate objects. He hopes to have his book “So Excellent a King” published soon, an exposition on the kingship of Christ. Rick has been a Christian for almost 30 years, and in that time has developed an acute sense of his own ignorance and Christ’s truly astounding grace. Aside from writing, he is waiting expectantly for that next big break as a roller derby referee or pin monkey at a bowling alley. Pray for him.

Psalm 112 – Obedience is not enough.

Most people know what is required of them to maintain their good standing as a man, a husband, and a father.  They must be faithful to their wives.  They must be successful enough to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their families. They must be men of exemplary character.  Why do men do these things?  What motivates them?  What motivates you?

Psalm 112 opens with a simple but profound challenge to your heart and motivation as a man, and as your family’s leader.  “Happy are those who respect the Lord, who want what he commands.”  This challenge begins with respect for the Lord, which should be the foundation of your motivations in all things.  It goes further than most challenges which ask only for obedience to the commands of the Lord.  If you are the father of a teenager, you are very familiar with the difference between obedience of the rules, and a desire to be obedient to the rules.  It goes beyond doing what your told, to the place where you not only accept but agree with the commands.  You desire to obey, because you agree with the principles, not because you fear the punishment.

What follows is a wonderful list of promises to your family: your children will be powerful, each generation will be truly happy, and in God’s economy, they will be wealthy.  There are even some assurances for you: light in the dankness as a reward for being honest, kind, compassionate and righteous, victory in return for generosity, a steadfast heart, security, and honor.  These are things that every man wants.

What happens in your family is a direct result of the things you stand for.  The challenge cannot be forgotten.  Honor and obey God and delight in his ways.  Want what he wants.  Tell your family that this is what motivates you.  Then watch how it impacts everything in your house.  Don’t take my word for it, read Psalm 112 below and judge for yourself if the blessings seem worth the effort it will take to master the challenge.  As for me and my house?  We will respect the Lord, and will strive to want what he commands.

Psalm 112

1 Praise the Lord! Happy are those who respect the Lord,     who want what he commands.
2 Their descendants will be powerful in the land;     the children of honest people will be blessed.
3 Their houses will be full of wealth and riches, and their goodness will continue forever.
4 A light shines in the dark for honest people, for those who are merciful and kind and good.
5 It is good to be merciful and generous.     Those who are fair in their business
6 will never be defeated. Good people will always be remembered.
7 They won’t be afraid of bad news; their hearts are steady because they trust the Lord.
8 They are confident and will not be afraid; they will look down on their enemies.
9 They give freely to the poor. The things they do are right and will continue forever. They will be given great honor.
10 The wicked will see this and become angry; they will grind their teeth in anger and then disappear. The wishes of the wicked will come to nothing.

Science in the Bible – Unclean Seeds

This is the beginning of a new series highlighting scientific facts found in the Bible.  Why do we care about science in the bible you might ask?  Finding science references in the bible helps to validate the authenticity of the authorship (God) as many of the scientific principles found in scripture were not ‘discovered’ by science until much later.

Leviticus 11 has one such scientific reference.  In Leviticus 11 Moses is going over a bunch of rules to determine if a food is clean or unclean.  Verses 29-38 discuss various types of unclean animals that were not to be eaten.  Should one of these animals die, touching it made the offender unclean until they washed themselves.  It was in this section that I discovered something interesting.  If the animal dies and falls on something, whatever it falls on is unclean until it was washed.  If it dies in an oven, or cooking pot the oven or cooking pot must be discarded as you can no longer eat out of it.

The verses that caught my eye are 37 and 38.  “If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean.  But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, it is unclean for you.” That immediately made me wonder why dry seeds would still be safe to plant, but wet seeds were not.  Investigating this led me to something I haven’t looked at since grade school; the seed germination cycle.

Prior to getting wet, seeds are dormant and protected by a thick outer skin called a testa.  These skins protect from parasites, mechanical injury, and extreme temperatures.  Adding water to the dry seeds begins the germination process.  The seed absorbs the water which causes enzymes to become activated, respiration to increase and plant cells to duplicate rapidly.  Once this process has begun, the seed is no longer protected by its testa and is susceptible to external contaminates.   This outer coating can rupture in as little as 6 hours after getting wet.

So, if there is a carcass on your dry seeds throw it out and go about your business.  If however, the critter corpse is laying on seeds that have become wet for whatever reason; the whole mess needs to be thrown out because it’s contaminated or unclean.

We can either believe that Moses, during his free time as leader of the Jewish people in 1500 B.C., studied seed germination or he had some divine inspiration.  Hopefully this is the first of many such articles highlighting scientific facts found throughout the Bible, the only ancient text that has them.

If you study and enjoy the subjects of biology or seed germination feel free to add your insights in the comments below.

What is the meaning of the IXOYE inside the Christian Fish symbol?

ixoye

Have you ever seen those Christian Fish symbols on the backs of peoples cars and wondered what the IXOYE stood for?  Most people believe it is the Greek spelling of Jesus.  They are wrong.  IXOYE actually says “Fish” in Greek.  Seems a little redundant and silly to have the word “fish” inscribed in the symbol of a fish.  There is a deeper meaning behind it however.

IXOYE

IXOYE is an acrostic poem.  Acrostic poems use the first letter of each line to spell out something.  See this Valentine’s Day post if you don’t remember.  Iota is the first letter of Iesous or Ιησους which is the Greek spelling of Jesus.  Chi is the first letter of Christos or Χριστóς which is Greek for Anointed.  Theta is the first letter of Theou or Θεοῦ which is possessive form of the Greek word for God. Upsilon is the first letter of Huios or Υἱός, Greek for Son.  Sigma is the first letter of Soter or Σωτήρ, the Greek word for Savior.

 

 

Iota (Ιησους )  – JesusIXOYE inside the Christian Fish symbol
Chi (Χριστóς ) – Christ (Anointed)
Theta (Θεοῦ ) – God’s
Upsilon (Υἱός) – Son
Sigma (Σωτήρ) –  Savior

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior

So there you see the finished acrostic saying not Jesus’ name, but instead the ultimate message of God’s salvation plan for humanity.  And you thought poetry was boring.  Well crafted poetry, like this acrostic gem, can be true works of art.

Historical Jesus – Not A Wuss

Jesus

Editor’s note: All men must read this guest post from Nick LaPrell.  It will shed some light on why the Jesus of today irritates you.  Admit it, he does.  It is difficult to believe in a God that, in the back of your mind, you think you can beat up.

The Original Godly Gentleman

It does not surprise many to learn that more women go to church than men. According to a 2000 survey by the Barna group, 61% of church attendees are women, leaving 39% men. Some churches have attempted to address the issue by staging more church barbecues, after service football gatherings, sports teams, an other manly activities. Unfortunately, some have gone to the extent of endorsing (or at least allowing) drinking, smoking, and cursing.

Perhaps the root of the problem isn’t that men cannot relate to church, but that they cannot relate to an entirely emasculated Jesus. We hear about how Jesus calls us to “turn the other cheek,” (Matthew 5:39) or how Peter was rebuked for taking a guard’s ear off (John 18:10). We see pictures of a thin pale long blond haired Jesus glowing with his hand stretched out, looking to the heavens. Lets face it, men are getting the message that the Son of God is a small, quiet, passive doormat and they are called to be like Him.

The Appearance of Jesus

Most know that Jesus’ trade was a carpenter (Mark 6:3), but in his time carpentry was not all about building chairs and furniture. In fact, carpentry involved building houses (usually out of heavy stone). Take your frail image of Jesus and add about 80 pounds of muscle. He would have needed that to accomplish this skill. Also add some heavily calloused hands that spent over a decade handling heavy materials.

historical jesusIn Jesus’ time and region, you would not find blond haired blue eyed pale Jews. Take that image and darken it to around what you expect to see in the Middle East today. His eyes were also most likely brown, and His hair would be dark in color. It was also culturally unacceptable to have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14), so shorten His hair up to something above shoulder length.

Isaiah 53:2 tells us that He has no beauty that we should desire Him. He was average looking, so take that image and rustle up His hair a bit. He probably bathed as often (not very) as anyone else, and contrary to the movies today, it is doubtful that His tunic maintained an almost glowing white color. Lets go with dingy. We might also want to consider the physical aspects of Jesus’ death. He was whipped and beaten beyond recognition, nailed to a cross, and jabbed with a spear. That is going to leave a mark that will put any bragging Hell’s Angel to shame. Revelation 19:11-16 gives us a description of Jesus when He returns to pour His wrath out on a corrupt world:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

word horse

He is described as having tattoos! A name that only He knows and the phrase “King of kings and Lord of lord’s” on His leg.

Now we have a more historically accurate depiction of Jesus. He is strong, dark, dirty, rugged, scarred, tattooed, and Jewish/Middle Eastern looking.

A Passive Jesus?

One of the most grossly misrepresented verses has Jesus instructing his disciples that if they are slapped in the face, they are to turn (offer up) the other cheek:

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
– Matthew 5:39

This has been perverted into pacifist ideology today where we are to believe that we are not to stand up for ourselves when we are hurt or threatened. The context of the verse is actually quite different. In the culture at the time, slapping someone was to insult their honor. If you were slapped, you could have the courts fine the person. Jesus called us not to retaliate for the sake of our honor. In modern times, the verse might read, “If someone flips you the bird, don’t return the gesture. Just go about your business.”

According to John 18:10-11, when the guards came for Jesus, Peter responded by drawing his sword and cutting of a guard’s ear (we can probably assume Peter was aiming for his head). Jesus rebuked Peter. We might get the idea that Jesus was rebuking Peter for responding in violence, but the reason Peter was rebuked was because Jesus spent the past several days trying to explain to Peter that He was going to be captured, beaten, and killed, and this was all part of God’s plan. Peter was rebuked for going against God’s plan, not for attacking a man he knew was going to harm Jesus.

Jesus certainly does not condone violence as a solution when there are other options, but He does expect us to stand up for ourselves. When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure, he instructed them to bring supplies, including a sword. In fact, they were to sell their clothes to purchase a sword if they could not afford one:

Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.
– Luke 22:36

The Presence of Jesus

Jesus has a presence like no other. He had to speak loud enough for a crowd of thousands to hear Him without a microphone. He spoke with a confidence possible only by someone who knows 100% that they are backed by the Creator of the universe.

When Jesus saw the crooked money changers outside the temple perverting God’s law, He didn’t “turn the other cheek.” He roughed up the merchants with a whip and tossed their tables (John 2:15). When a disciple stepped out of line, Jesus didn’t “agree to disagree,” He lovingly, yet firmly rebuked them. (“Get behind me Satan! – Matthew 16:23)

No, Jesus was not the quiet guy in the back of the room nobody noticed. He stood for the truth and offended most people in the process. He will pour out the wrath of God on a world that will become more corrupt than ever before. Revelation describes Jesus coming on the scene riding on a horse with fire in His eyes. Politicians come to a resolution by compromising their own goals until an agreement is made. Jesus will not compromise the Word of God. He will utterly destroy any who oppose when that day comes.

Like Jesus

Perhaps if us men know more about who Jesus was we would want to be less “like Mike” and more like Him. I will strive to be like Jesus in ways that don’t often end up printed on a t-shirt.

• I will develop a skill at which I can excel. (Jesus was a carpenter)
• I will keep my body strong. (Jesus walked everywhere He went)
• I will refuse to compromise the truth, all the way to death.
• I will be confident that while I am doing the work of God, He will have my back.
• I will lead people around me to the truth.
• I will protect my family by any means necessary.

I think that if more men knew that this is what it is like to strive to be like Jesus, maybe there would be more men in church. Then again, maybe they are too afraid to be the kind of man that Jesus is. After all, Jesus is the first and the last Godly Gentleman.

Testing Spiritual Maturity – James 3:1-12

Testing Spiritual Maturity by the Taming of the Tongue
-A Bible Study of James 3:1-12

James begins chapter three by providing us an excellent tool for measuring spiritual maturity. Think back to your high school chemistry class.  A common tool for testing compounds is acid.  You pour acid on something and observe the results.  In our case we want to test spiritual maturity so we need to go right past the sulfuric acid, skip the hydrochloric acid, and pull off the shelf a bottle labeled “Tongue – Warning: TOXIC”.  James examines the relationship between a man and his tongue and how it reveals his spiritual maturity.

1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Jesus warned in Luke 12:48 “to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much have been committed, of him they will ask the more.”  This is a reminder, from both James and Jesus that being a teacher in God’s church requires both natural and spiritual gifts, appropriate character, and right living.  In James day teaching was becoming popular, but for the wrong reasons, so he included this warning: God will judge us on the last day, with special strictness on account of our influence over others.  When you seek to become a teacher, know that you will be held accountable for you influence over the others, and if your words or actions cause another to stumble or fall that will be held against you.

I particularly like what McGee has to say on the subject. “The Christian teacher entered into a perilous heritage. In the Church he took the place of the Rabbi in Judaism. There were many great and saintly Rabbis, but the Rabbi was treated in a way that was liable to ruin the character of any man. His very name means, ‘My great one.’ Everywhere he went he was treated with the utmost respect. It was actually held that a man’s duty to his Rabbi exceeded his duty to his parents, because his parents only brought into the life of this world but his teacher brought him into the life of the world to come.  It was desperately easy for a Rabbi to become the kind of person who Jesus despised; a spiritual tyrant, an ostentatious ornament of piety, a lover of the highest place at any function, a person who gloried in the almost subservient respect showed to him in public.”

2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

The word stumble here can be translated ‘hinders spiritual progress.’  James included himself in this, noting that all men stumble.  Even knowing this, we should strive to stumble less.  I have two small children and it was fun watching them learn to walk.  They kept stumbling, but they kept getting back up.  As they have grown, they fall much less often now, but it still happens.  As we grow up we learn to walk, we learn discernment for the surface we’re walking on, we learn how to navigate difficult terrain, but even into adulthood, we still fall down sometimes.  That doesn’t mean we give up walking.

The perfect man James is talking about here is not the “Jesus Perfect” that is unattainable in this life.  A better translation would perhaps be ‘he is a spiritually mature man.’  This is a test of maturity.  As we draw closer to God, we get further and further from the world.  Evidence of this will become evident in our abilities to control our words.  Some men wear their hearts on their sleeves, but all men openly display the contents of their hearts in their words.  If eyes are the window to the soul, then the tongue is the loudspeaker of the soul.  What is written on your heart will eventually come out of your mouth.

3Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.

James is giving examples of where little pieces of the whole can control the course of a much larger thing.  The normal size for a ships rudder is between 1/60th and 1/70th of the ship’s hull center-line.  Likewise, a 5 inch metallic bit can control the path of a 2000 pound horse.  These comparisons really bring light to the fact that something as small as a tongue can control the course of our lives to the point of even having an impact on our final destination.

See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

James continues to compare the tongue to other things to make his point.  Here the tongue is likened to a fire.  Fire in a barbecue pit is a good thing.  Fire in your living room is a bad thing.  Controlled fire can accomplish a lot of wonderful things.  You’re probably reading this on a device that is powered by fire. (69% of USA power comes from coal or gas). Runaway fire is a tragedy of epic proportions, capable of destroying everything in it’s path for hundreds of acres.  James goes so far to call the tongue a world of iniquity, which is the absence of moral and spiritual values and synonymous with evil.

The part I find most evocative is the last phrase, “it is set on fire by hell.”  Just imagine yourself in an argument with a sibling,  spouse, or friend when all of a sudden a great one liner or zinger pops into your head.  You aim and let it fire, watching the damage register on their faces.  This probably isn’t too hard to imagine since we’ve all done this, probably more often that we’d care to admit.  Now ask yourself, where did that zinger come from?  You know you’re not that clever.  James seems to be invoking an image of demons whispering in our ears, setting our tongues on fire.  I find it particularly disturbing and will often conjure this image in my mind prior to letting those one liners loose. It helps me to examine my words before I say them, before I say something in the heat of battle that I will live to regret.

Consider you words like your credit score.  It takes very little to cause lasting damage, and it can take a very long time to repair.  The old sticks and stones line is wrong, very wrong.  Every man should carefully weigh his words before he speaks.  Proverbs 26 puts it this way: 18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, 19 is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “I was only Joking!”

Having fully explained why the tongue is evil, James now begins to broach the subject of subjugating the tiny beast trapped between our teeth.

7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

The human spirit has incredible capacity for sacrifice and self-control. Sometimes we hear a desperate survival story of someone who cuts off their own leg to get free from a tree that has fallen on them, and then they drive to a hospital for medical treatment. Yet that same man can’t tame the tongue perfectly. No man can tame the tongue.  So after many verses of telling us how we need to control our tongue, James hits us with the fact that we can’t.  That hardly seems fair.  Tame your tongue, tame your tongue, tame your tongue, Oh, by the way, you can’t tame your tongue.  Is this a contradiction?  No.  Give it to God.  Man cannot tame the tongue with his own power, but only through Jesus Christ living IN you will you gain control.  This takes us back to spiritual maturity.  As you draw closer to God, you will draw further from the world.  The more Christ there is in your heart, the more you can wield your tongue’s power from love instead of hate, from wisdom instead of foolishness.

9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

James finishes this section with another set of comparisons, highlighting the way things are versus the way they should be.  There is no such thing as a half salty spring, it’s either fresh water or it’s not.  James believes the same should hold true for our tongues.  Either we have Christ in our hearts, controlling our tongues, or we don’t.  You cannot be half a Christian.  If Christ is in us, it should be evident in our words.  Continuing to draw closer to Christ and further from the world will produce good fruit in your life, including a greater control over your tongue.  Think of how to talk to your friends at church.  Now compare that to how you talk with your co-workers.  And again with how you talk to your wife.  And finally contrast that with how you speak to your children.  If you notice a large disparity between them, then your tongue test of spiritual maturity has indicated a need for improvement.  Continue studying the Word, and drawing closer to Christ until there is no discernible difference in the way you speak to all of the people in your life.  With Love.

Take the time to watch the video below.  It says more powerfully with no words at all, what I’ve tried to say in many words.