Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Problem with Me, Continued

As I said earlier, swear words aren’t the only words that should make us wince.

We all have had hurtful words spoken to us that we can still remember years later…words no one should ever hear. Yet in anger or spite someone said them to us. What words come to your mind? They may be words that changed how you felt about yourself, about God, about trusting others.

Passages like James 3:5-12 couldn’t be more clear-cut. Such words should never come out of our mouths. But put me in a car and I can say them to an inanimate object like my new GPS unit…or to my wife…or to my children. There’s no way I can justify such outbursts or snide remarks. They’re never from God. They’re always from the Devil.

When I flew home last Friday, Feb. 13, I already had made plans to take my wife, Renée, out for lunch for Valentine’s Day. Toward the end of a wonderful brunch at a nice restaurant on the Columbia River, I made three promises to Renée. The third promise was to show how much I cherish her by changing the way I speak to her when I’m frustrated, no matter what’s frustrating me. I promised to own the problem 100 percent.

There’s no way I want to transfer my frustration onto her by my words, tone of voice, attitudes, or actions. Better to be silent than to say anything that could hurt her.

After all: “The tongue is a fire and also a world of injustice. It is a part of the body, but it defiles the whole body, sets the entire created world ablaze, and is itself set ablaze by hell” (African Bible Commentary, page 1513).

The word “hell” in James 3:5b isn’t just a swear word. It’s a translation of the Greek word Gehenna. It’s the only use of the word outside the words of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The word Gehenna speaks not only of hell, but of the Devil, whom Jesus said is a liar, a thief, a murderer, and a destroyer.

Unlike other writers, James says that the tongue is a fire. Is he right? Doesn’t he mean the tongue is like a fire? No, the second part of verse 5 is clear. The tongue is a fire. It’s either lit by the Holy Spirit filling us to overflowing with words of grace and mercy and love, or it’s lit by the Devil and sparks a forest fire.

On the news we’ve seen the devastating effects of carelessness in California, arson in Australia, and a terrible plane crash in New York that took 50 lives. But have you ever seen the devastating effects of careless, angry, critical, or slanderous words you have said?

Then again, has anyone else ever said words that deeply hurt you? Has anyone ever said words that inflicted serious damage to your soul? As quickly as possible, put out the fire. Don’t let it burn within you any longer. And certainly don’t spread it further by anything you might say.

Instead, what should we do? James doesn’t tell us in this passage, but the rest of the Scriptures do.

First, we need to understand that our words—whether flippant or angry—all come from the same place. So we need to guard our heart and watch for any signs of fire.

Second, we need to understand that it’s not enough to bite our tongue until it bleeds. Instead, we need to confess our sins to God — and, as He prompts us — we need to confess them to the people we have hurt. I certainly have had to do that with Renée and my children and a number of friends.

Third, beyond confession, we need to ask God’s Holy Spirit to flood us with living water. Such living water will heal our hearts and tongues. Such water also will make our tongue fireproof.

Fourth, we need to understand it’s not enough to be filled with the Holy Spirit for an hour or two, or a day or two. We desperately need to ask for God’s washing, cleansing, and flooding with living water every day of our lives.

Has the Lord spoken to your heart this week? I hope so. Now, with His help, let’s take care of some unfinished business. 

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