WHEN A KISS ISN’T JUST A KISS

How Greeting with a Holy Kiss Promotes Unity in the Church

holy kiss

I love how the apostle Paul closes out his second letter to the Corinthians. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12).

My aim in this post and others to follow is to show how taking this command seriously can serve to guard oneness in your church.

What is a holy kiss? The adjective tips us off that he means nothing sensual at all. Yet it still involves physical contact. This gesture promotes spiritual purposes, not amorous ones.

In the ancient world, among the Jews and other cultures, even in parts of the world today, people greeted each other, normally males with males and females with females, by a light touch of the lips, first on one cheek and then on the other.

The early church adopted the same, often after baptisms as a way of welcoming new converts into the church and during communion to welcome repentant folks who returned to the table.

We find this same exhortation in several other places in the New Testament (see Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26; and 1 Pet. 5:14 where Peter calls it the kiss of love).

This mattered.Why does Paul close his letter on this note, other than the familiar benediction in 2 Cor. 13:14? What would possess him to direct them to make sure they engage in such an intimate, personal expression of love toward one another as a holy kiss at the close of things?

It has everything to do with the kinds of issues he addresses in this most personal letter he has just written to them. The Corinthian church experienced trouble on multiple fronts. They suffered division in their ranks (2 Cor. 12:20), corrupt teaching from false apostles (2 Cor. 11:4), grave sin that needed discipline and restoration (2 Cor. 2:5-8), among other things.

So writing both to address these things and to defend his apostleship which had come into question, Paul now wraps up the letter to put a summary recap on everything he has said.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

He reveals his pastoral heart in love. Notice he calls them brothers (all inclusive, men and women). That’s important, as a term of endearment, because the immediate context, shows Paul delivering a scorching rebuke, threatening apostolic severity (2 Cor. 13:10) when he comes, if they don’t shape up.

He doesn’t want to leave that kind of sour taste in their mouths. Note well, reproof delivered with hard words may well have longer lasting effects when followed by strong assurances of love and affection.

Never lower the boom on anyone, especially in the body of Christ, without strong reminders of your affection and commitment to that someone.

I think Paul calls for the kiss of love in the end result of his letter so that they won’t peace-fake. I suppose you can come up to somebody you would really rather not have anything to do with and fake such a thing, but don’t call it holy. And it’s really hard to do!

To engage somebody on that level of intimacy where you will go cheek to cheek, normally means you’ve got no impediments blocking your relationship. Having to do this kind of thing in a fellowship of believers can help ensure that peacemaking, not peace-faking or peace-breaking, actually does go on.

In my next post I will head into v. 11 to help us embrace the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss in ways culturally appropriate in our day and age.

PEACEMAKING & “ALTAR BUILDING”

Marks of a God-Centered Lifestyle Essential for Peacemaking Excellence

I posted recently on one of my favorite Bible peacemaking passagesGen. 13. I failed to mention a critical component in the text–Abram’s pattern of altar building.

Praying in the dark

There is  a similarity between how the chapter begins and ends. In this is an insight—perhaps a secret—which explains why Abram could respond the way he did in the conflict with his nephew.

Genesis 12:10-20 recounts how Abram barely escaped a near disastrous entanglement with Pharaoh in Egypt. That background sets the stage for Abram coming out of Egypt back into Negeb.

It’s not an accident that these accounts come back-to-back. In chapter 12, Abram derails miserably with the Pharaoh debacle; here he gets back on track again with his own extended household.

The crucial difference between the two situations and their respective outcomes is revealed in v. 2-4.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

It appears Abram learned a lesson from his failures in Egypt. He’s back seeking the Lord again at all times. He has resumed the all-important practice of altar building.

What does that look like? It means making God the center of your existence through a variety of means. You make a priority of worshiping Him. You regularly listen for His voice in His word. You keep up ongoing conversation with Him in prayer. You wait on Him to fulfill His promises to you.

These things make all the difference in the world! This is a huge turning point in how chapter twelve ends and how thirteen unfolds. But there’s more.

Verse 18 says this:  So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord. This chapter begins with altar building and it ends with altar building. Both references spell bookend emphasis for what comes in between.

It is this kind of God-centered orientation in chapter 13 which enables Abram with great grace to head off a relational train wreck with Lot.

Puritan Matthew Henry offered these practical insights about the disciplines of altar building:

Abram attended on God in his instituted ordinances. He built an altar unto the Lord who appeared to him, and called on the name of the Lord. Now consider this, (1.) As done upon a special occasion. When God appeared to him, then and there he built an altar, with an eye to the God who appeared to him. . . . Thus he acknowledged, with thankfulness, God’s kindness to him in making him that gracious visit and promise; and thus he testified his confidence in and dependence upon the word which God had spoken. . . . (2.) As his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as Abram had got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent God had an altar, and that an altar sanctified by prayer. . . .  Note, those that would approve themselves the children of faithful Abram, and would inherit the blessing of Abram, must make conscience of keeping up the solemn worship of God, particularly in their families, according to the example of Abram. The way of family worship is a good old way, is no novel invention, but the ancient usage of all the saints. Abram was very rich and had a numerous family, was now unsettled and in the midst of enemies, and yet, wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar. Wherever we go, let us not fail to take our religion along with us.

How much altar building characterizes your life these days?

Your relational magnanimity quotient in peacemaking depends upon it.

 

GUARDING ONENESS

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive, stubborn commitment to ourselves. Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit . Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility—everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.

If Crabb overstates the case at all, then I am not sure how much. It seems he lines up perfectly with Paul’s instructions in Phil. 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

He gives two directives for guarding oneness. The first addresses attitude–humility of mind which counts others more significant than oneself (see also Rom. 12:16; the second focuses on action–look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Greek word for “look” is the word skopeo from where we get our English word “scope”–as in a rifle scope. We are to keep our eyes wide open for the concerns of others. He assumes we will do that for ourselves. Guardians of oneness in marriage, family, church or any relational sphere scan the horizon of needs on a broader scale for the benefit of others.

Philippians 2 finishes with four examples of his day from which to draw inspiration: Jesus (5-11), himself (12-18, Timothy (19-24), and Epaphroditus (25-30). Of course none of those matters more to our motivation to guard oneness than that of the Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation.

Why? Because He not only gives us an example to follow; He supplies the power to live similarly through the transforming gospel.

As you move into 2017, where might you have to drain the cesspool of self-centeredness for the joy of growing in others-centeredness?

A PEACEMAKING WIFE

How Nancy Excelled at Safeguarding Oneness in Our Marriage

Today would have marked our 42nd wedding anniversary. Ever since Nan went home to Jesus last May 31, I’ve wondered how this final major historical marker would unfold for me.

cananda-trip

As I paged through our wedding album this morning, tears fell again. I have so many great memories of life with the wife my youth. We enjoyed uncommon oneness by and large throughout the years.

In this personal post, I want to pay tribute to Nan the peacemaker. She took Eph. 4:1-3 seriously in the church and in our marriage. She eagerly preserved the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. She embraced the blessedness Jesus promises in Matt. 5:9.

I offer these ten practices for the benefit of any marriage desiring to know abiding peace in the home.

One, she loved Jesus  more than she loved me (Matt. 10:37-39). From the day of her conversion, Nan counted the costs of discipleship. Jesus was first in her affections. She knew it was not wise to pursue her satisfaction in me. God never made any spouse fit for that.

Two, she chose not to allow me to control her joy (1 Thess. 5:16-18). She had to learn this over time, but she got there. She came to distinguish the difference between what was about me and what was about her. And when it was about me–and it often was, she released and rested in Jesus.

Three, she perfected the art of asking me questions (Prov. 20:5). Nancy got me big time on this. She knew if she challenged me outright about something I thought, said, or did, I could so easily get defensive (again–that’s on me).

So she kept respect for me high while making her point by posing thoughtful questions to draw out my heart. I loved this about her! She engaged my heart; she didn’t stomp all over it.

Four, she refused worrisome nagging, choosing rather to wait on God for change in me (Prov. 21:19). It’s not that Nancy wouldn’t say hard things to me. I assure you, she knew how to do that well (see number six below). But once she made her case with me, she let it rest–asking the Lord to do in my heart what only He could do.

Five, she didn’t peacebreak (Prov. 15:18). Some will question my memory on this. It is true just the same. Nan lost her cool with me only one time in all our years together. Frankly, I deserved it. Outbursts of anger crush oneness; we simply refused to go there by God’s grace.

Six, she didn’t peacefake (Eph. 4:25-27). Sorry to say, I specialized in stuffing my anger and punishing Nan with the cold shoulder treatment. I got better over time, but Nan never struggled with fear of conflict issues like I did. She consistently told it like it was in love.

Seven, she overlooked my sin–a lot (Prov. 19:11). Nan outright forgave me for my offenses over and over again without saying a word. SHE WAS NOT EASILY OFFENDED. This matters so much to marital oneness.

Eight, she consistently forgave me for my sins (Eph. 4:32). Nancy lived out the gospel of grace by showing her chief-of-sinners husband forgiving grace. She practiced the four promises of forgiveness–especially never using my past as a weapon against me. Good grief, I was a fortunate man! If you only knew.

Nine, she embraced assisted peacemaking with me when necessary (Phil. 4:2-3). We visited a fair number of Christian counselors over the years. We never regretted the investment. If we got stuck with maintaining oneness, we got help restoring oneness.

Ten, she never wavered on her covenant commitments (Matt. 5:37). On December 21, 1974 Nancy Masologites spoke vows to me, Curtis Heffelfinger, promising to love and to cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, until death did us part.

Death did us part this year, but Nancy’s legacy lives on in so many ways–including in my aim to be a better peacemaking man and pastor for the rest of my days.

Thanks, babe, you were the best.

POLITICS & CHURCH PEACE

So many things threaten the peace and purity of God’s church. Differing opinions about politics can divide God’s people in challenging ways. I offered the following to my church to help ground us in a kingdom view for guarding our oneness.

I awoke Wednesday morning to learn that Donald Trump tweeted a revised bio on his feed: president elect of the United States.

Illustration of presidential campaign buttons

Honestly, as with the pre-election realities―unlike anything I can recall in my lifetime―I find myself on this side of Election Day scratching my pastoral head as to what to make of our state of the union.

If ever I would categorize something as a Psalm 131:2 “too-high-for-me/above-my-pay-grade” scenario, the political drama unfolding before our eyes in 2016 qualifies as much as any of the other mysterious providences to enter my life this year.

While wrestling frequently over where to cast my vote, I have resisted occupying myself with the outcome in a hand-wringing, anxiety-ridden, prideful occupying of myself with what I can’t control. God has helped me calm my soul with weaned-child perspective born of His persistent work in my sometimes frantic fretting over baffling providences.

No doubt a wide range of emotions exists within our body this week, regardless of individual political preferences. In this article, I want to point us to David’s exhortation in Psalm 131:3 to hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Consider these truths from God’s word to garrison that hope in your heart.

One, God is sovereign over all things. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning  and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,  and I will accomplish all my purpose’ (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Among all the things that moved and shifted overnight last Tuesday, Jesus didn’t. He remains enthroned in the heavens at the Father’s right hand until He brings all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25). He reigns!

Two, God’s sovereignty prevails in specific over rulers, kings, prime ministers and presidents alike. For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another (Psalm 75:6-7).

Regardless for whom you voted—and I hope you did exercise your US citizen stewardship responsibility to do so—God has judged. He put down Secretary Clinton and lifted up Mr. Trump. Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)?

Please don’t misread me. I’m not implying I consider the president elect a disaster. Nor do I necessarily regard him a monumental blessing. My political sentiments as a citizen of our country are my personal business.

What I’m simply saying by citing that verse is this: even if Donald Trump proves to be the worst thing to ever happen to our country, the best thing, or likely somewhere in between, God will have done it. Furthermore, I want to caution us to exercise care in the way we judge. J. D. Greear said this very well in his post-election article:

I’d encourage us to be cautious about declaring definitively God’s intentions in this election. I’ve already seen social media filling up with some declaring Trump as “God’s answer to the prayers of his people,” and others declaring him to be the “judgment of God on America.” A better posture is to encourage Trump where he works for justice and pursues righteousness, and speak against him where he promotes injustice. It is almost never wise to appoint yourself God’s spokesman about contemporary events. (That has led to several devastating chapters in history!) Based on what you see in Scripture, stand with righteousness and against injustice wherever you see it (emphasis mine).

As I think about preaching 1 Peter this Sunday and the plight of the persecuted church, I find myself grateful that the beast Nero doesn’t rule over us. We could be worse off—far worse. As Scripture urges honoring even tyrants like Rome’s emperor (1 Pet. 2:17) and prayer for all in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:1-2), let us make that our default response to our country’s recent turn of events.

Mr. Trump’s heart, as with President Obama and every other White House occupant, is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21:1). The Lord’s eyes keep watch on the nations (Psalm 66:7). The USA is no exception. God’s got this deal!

Three, our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20) supersedes all allegiances on earth, including our beloved country. I’m grateful to possess a US passport; I’m infinitely more excited that my name is written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). Every US citizen who follows Jesus is longing for a better country, a heavenly one―or should be (Heb. 11:16).

Are you crushed by Tuesday’s outcome? Are you unsure what to think? Has it left you with a sense of angst to some degree? Let the longings stirred up as a result set your mind and heart toward your heavenly kingdom. Redouble your energies for being on mission for Jesus—knowing Him to make Him known.

Jesus never said, “I will build the USA and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” He never said that about Israel as well, nor any other geopolitical entity. No, He raised that banner over His church and her alone (Matt. 16:18). The church of Jesus Christ alone ultimately triumphs through election cycles, centuries, and millennia.

Good news, church. We win! He is coming again with myriads of angels to make all things right (1 Thess. 4:16). He will judge the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1). The New Heavens and New Earth remain our treasured inheritance kept for us by God’s power (1 Pet. 1:5). So hope in the Lord, church of the redeemed, from this time forth and forever.

After a friend of mine shared his sentiments about the outcome of this election, he proceeded to say this to me: before the day is out I plan to read through the book of Daniel in one sitting. Not a bad place to ground oneself in these too great and marvelous times in which we live.

GRIEVING SIN

Mending Fences When You Break Peace with Others

Recently I found myself back in the house of mourning. Gratefully it had nothing to do with death of a loved one. But the intensity of grief I felt seemed eerily reminiscent of the past three years.

Farmer binding the wire in pasture

What happened? I wounded a friend. A joke I played backfired–miserably. I sensed it minutes after I did it. I tried to reverse course. Too late. Damage already done. The brother I harmed, a committed peacemaker, spoke plainly in truth and love just how deep the hurt went.

I hate my sin–especially when it affects others. The Lord immediately impressed upon me the weight of my guilt.

Any follower of Jesus, eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3) with others, identifies with the sense of loss which accompanies breaking fellowship this way. What to do?

Three steps at least are warranted.

One, repent quickly.

The apostle Paul commended one church this way: For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment (2 Cor. 7:11).

Repentance involves a changing of one’s mind which turns away from wrong in favor of aligning with God’s will on a matter. It is always better to do that sooner rather than later to avoid hardness of heart.

Two, confess robustly.

Beware the temptation to apologize inadequately just to get out of the doghouse with someone as quickly as possible. Use Peacemaker Ministries 7 A’s of Confession as a helpful template for full-orbed confession. These will keep you from birthing what a friend of mine calls an “abortive confession.”

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

Each of these matters in robust confession but numbers three and four make a world of difference in communicating godly grief over sin which breaks relationships. With my friend I said something like this: I violated the law of love in 1 Cor. 13:4-7. I was unkind and I was rude.

I quickly gathered how much hurt I had caused by joking around. I had to own insensitivity that touched a terribly important aspect of his personal peace.

Third, believe boldly.

Believe what? The gospel of grace and its promise of forgiveness through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Don’t do what I tend to do–wallow in a form of grief which amounts to self-imposed shame. In other words avoid the temptation to beat yourself up.

Cling tightly to the words of Heb. 4:16. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

And get back to loving your friend the way you used to and even better.

FROM PEACEBREAKING TO PEACEMAKING

Eight Ways to Reshape a Church’s DNA

Fourteen years ago our church melted down in our last great church fight. When the dust settled, both vocational pastors had resigned, all the lay elders did the same, and half the deacons withdrew from office as well. It was ugly.

Make a change is your life,career,relationship concept

Since then we’ve worked hard to cultivate a culture of peace at OGC. If we can help it, we don’t ever want to go again to such a devastating place of disunity. We’ve worked hard over the years to cultivate a culture of peace eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

We don’t do everything perfectly, but we have made strides in this department. Here are eight things a church can do in an ongoing campaign to make peacemaking a priority.

One, stress peacemaking as one of the core values. Different churches emphasize different biblical facets in their ecclesiology. Don’t leave peacemaking on the cutting room floor.

Two, pray often and eagerly for the peace and purity of the church. Don’t take unity for granted. Ask God to protect the shalom of the assembly and keep it from strife.

Three, write peacemaking into the church documents. Include it in the bylaws, membership covenant, and new member class training. Kick things up an extra notch by adopting a relational commitments philosophy.

Four, stock peacemaking books in the resource center and/or church library. Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, among others, is an absolute must for reading that equips people for peacemaking.

Five, train people with relational gifts and skills in the arts of conflict coaching and mediation. Peacemaker Ministries offers excellent seminars in both. Build a reconciling relationship team so the burden of assisted peacemaking falls on more servants than just the pastors.

Six, recite The Peacemaker Pledge whenever new members enter the church. Hammer away at the Four Gs whenever possible. Drill them into engaged couples as part of pre-marital counseling so they learn to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way.

Seven, feature Resolving Everyday Conflict seminar offerings in the Christian Ed and/or small group ministries. We offer this at least every three years as part of our Sunday AM equipping class curriculum. Easy to do and highly effective in saturating folks with key biblical content in this crucial area.

Eight, cast vision for peacemaking excellence from the pulpit. I do this every year on the anniversary of our last church fight. I divert from the ongoing sermon series for that one Sunday and preach a peacemaking passage. Tomorrow I’ll take the congregation to Philemon with a look at Paul’s masterful mediation efforts to help reconcile a slave and his master.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts: Strive for peace with everyone (Heb. 12:14). The verb gets translated a variety of ways–make every effort, pursue, work at, follow after.

No matter how you cut it, shaping a church from peacebreaking to peacemaking requires intentional, strategic, and whatever-it-takes change over time. Remember. Change nothing and nothing will change.

What additional things does your church do to cultivate a culture of peace? I invite your comment below!

 

SWEET REASONABLENESS (3)

How To Cultivate This Relational Virtue

Few things pour fuel on the fire of my anxiety like relational conflict.

Man with cardboard box on his head and terrified look skethed

I remember cutting the lawn some time ago just how much this fault grips me. My calendar the next day included an “exit interview” with someone who left my church.

Would you understand if I admitted that I hate those deals? They are just about the least favorite part of my job description. Give me a root canal instead, please.

Honestly, the more I mowed, the more obsessed I grew with worry over how that conversation would go. Pitiful–to say the least.

Finally, the Lord gave me an Agent Gibbs head slap on the back of the neck. It dawned on me just how far down the carnal slope I had slipped.

Why don’t you pray instead, knucklehead? Before I knew it, the Lord put 2 Tim. 2:24-25 into my thick head and hard heart. I started praying through those strategic pastoral verses while doing lawn wars Florida style.

When the apostle Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to a sweet reasonableness within the community, he details what it takes to make that virtue a reality. My last post dealt with the first of those ingredients–pursuing our joy in God.

This post zeroes in on the next component–making our requests to God (Phil. 4:6-7).

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Remember, the context here deals with conflict between two godly women in the church. We must put off worry when it comes to relational tension. How? Pray. Once again, Ken Sande helps unpack the meaning:

Paul knew that we cannot just stop being anxious. Worried thoughts have a way of creeping back into our minds, no matter how hard we try to ignore them. Therefore, he instructs us to replace worrying with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” When you are in a dispute, it is natural to dwell on your difficult circumstances or the wrong things that the other person has done or may do to you. The best way to overcome this negative thinking is to replace it with more constructive thoughts, such as praising God for his grace through the gospel, thanking him for the many things he has already done for you in this and other situations, and praying for assistance in dealing with your current challenges (cf. Matt. 6:25-34), (The Peacemaker, 86-87).

That exit interview sailed by faster than I imagined it would. The grass got cut too. And I learned for the upteenth time to just say no to worry by just saying yes to prayer.

Part four coming your way soon!

WORTHLESS RELIGION

Why Our Tongues Matter So Much To Our Church’s Peace

It never ceases to amaze me. No matter how many times I read through the Bible it happens over and over again. I see something for the very first time. How it escaped me all those previous times I’ll never know.

Snake Tongue

Reading through James recently it hit me unlike ever before. A faith that works–the book’s theme–demonstrates its validity significantly in control of our tongues.

Track this emphasis with me in these verses:

James 1:26

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

James 3:1-12

I won’t cite the whole passage. You can read it by clicking on the link. But think about it. The writer invests twelve whole verses about our troublesome tongues declaring, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8).

How so?

“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (v. 9-12).

Mike Mason sternly warns:

How cautious we need to be about leveling even the smallest criticism against the loved and elect children of God. Do we really think we can get away with grumbling against the friends of Jesus? If we stopped to realize who it is we were attacking, wouldn’t we bite our tongues (The Gospel According to Job, 241).

But James hasn’t finished this stream of exhortation just yet.

James 4:11-12

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

Sorry, there’s even more. He hammers away in James 5:9.

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the door.”

Gulp. If that doesn’t sober us nothing will. How very serious does the Lord take this matter of how we speak about our brothers and sisters! We can and must gauge the legitimacy of our claim as Christ followers by it.

Ever since this latest light went on in the book of James, I have sought to exercise all the more care over the words I speak about others inside and outside my church. The last thing I want to hear from the lips of Jesus one day is “Heff, your religion was worthless because your tongue was poison.”

How about you?