Sunday, November 22, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 9

Now I want us to explore what the book of Proverbs has to teach us about peace and anger. You mentioned the other night how much you enjoy the book of James; if you enjoy James you’ll enjoy Proverbs, for not only is James replete with practical instruction as is Proverbs, but we’ll find an emphasis in Proverbs on the tongue and anger and peace just as we do in James.

I’m going to start our reflections in Proverbs Chapter Ten and see where our journey takes us – let’s walk among these chapters and reflect on them, just as we would walk among the trees in a forest and note their shapes and characteristics.

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…” (10:11a).

“Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, the heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many…” (10:19 – 21a).

As we read this counsel, are we reminded of James Chapter Three?

There is a connection between the heart and the words we speak, a connection that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 12:33 – 37: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless (useless, wasted) word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Again, are we reminded of James Chapter Three when hearing these words of Jesus?

Not everything that grows in our vegetable garden at home are things that we planted; we are constantly removing weeds from our garden. Not everything that grows in our hearts are things which the Lord Jesus planted, there are weeds to be pulled daily, weeds which our enemy and the world attempt to plant in our lives. If we allow weeds to grow into fruit-bearing plants, the fruit they bear will poison our hearts and consequently our speech, with the result that rather than our words being a fountain of life to the people around us, they become the bitter water of which James writes and the evil that Jesus speaks of. When we consider that we are the sons and daughters of the living God, speech that is the result of poison fruit is particularly egregious – because we are not living and speaking as who we are in Christ, but rather like people who do not live in Him.

What does the writer mean by, “Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise”? When we talk without thinking, without considering whether our words will bring edification and understanding to those around us, we will sin against others and against God by putting ourselves at the center of the universe – we will speak to satisfy ourselves; it can be to satisfy our anger, our pride, to control others, to release tension and stress; but whatever the reason, when we fail to submit our hearts and speech to our Lord Jesus and instead engage in a torrential flow of words, we cannot help but at some point to transgress because we make ourselves the reference point for all that we say…we place ourselves on the throne.

“The lips of the righteous feed many…” Jesus says that the words He speaks are spirit and life (John 6:63). Since Jesus says, “Even as the Father sent me, so send I you,” our words should also be life and spirit. As Jesus feeds us with His words, we are to feed others with the words we speak as we live in intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

While this has always been a challenge to mankind, it is a particular challenge in this age of instant communication. In the midst of communication bombardment it is all too easy to allow fast-growing weeds to feed our speech and our writing – our minds cannot easily process the volume of communication that many of us experience, we cannot adequately reflect on what we hear and read; the result is that we send a constant flow of verbal and written communication to others that is often not thought out – its source is not considered, we feed others the fruit of poisonous weeds rather than the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). The popularity of “rants” is just one indicator that our speech and thinking has regressed to the infant stage.

How many people will our lips feed today? What will we feed them? Will it be anger? Will it be peace?

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 8

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7, NKJV].

Before we leave our reflections on this passage there is one other facet of the text I’d like to draw our attention to: “through Christ Jesus,” or as the NASB and NIV translate it, “in Christ Jesus.” Paul is writing to Christians; he is writing to people who are living in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This may appear to be an obvious point that does not need to be mentioned but in this age of self-help, and especially Christian self-help, I think we need to recognize that the obvious is no longer obvious. The purpose of Paul’s letter is not to make life better for his readers, it is not to teach them how to have peace of mind, it is not to teach them positive and happy thinking – the purpose of Paul’s letter is to guide his readers in their relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to live in Christ and with Christ and through Christ and out of Christ and into Christ – this is the language of the New Testament. When we abide in (live in, make our home in) Jesus Christ His life flows through us (see John Chapter 15). The peace of God that Paul writes of in Philippians guards our hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus.”

Our society talks of “compartmentalization.” We segregate areas of life in order to manage them. We have work life, family life, community life, religious life, political life, recreational life, entertainment life, and so forth. We are actors changing roles and costumes according to the stage we are on – there is no longer one grand stage of life, most of us are playing little theater on little stages. The Bible knows nothing of compartmentalized thinking and living, for the stage of the Bible is not just big, it is cosmic. The Biblical test of a person is not compartmentalization but holistic integration in Jesus Christ. When the Hebrews spoke of shalom it was not a compartmentalized peace but rather a holistic peace, a holistic wholeness, a holistic health, a holistic holiness; that was bestowed by Yahweh, lived in Yahweh, and lived unto Yahweh. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”   

If we seek peace apart from Jesus we will not find it; if we seek peace apart from following Jesus in all of life we will not find it. If the peace we seek is the equivalent of a therapy to make us feel good, if it is a commodity to be consumed in doses as we need it – we will not find it.  If we compartmentalize life and think that we can be obedient to Jesus Christ in some areas and not in others, our disobedience will hinder the holistic peace of Jesus Christ in our lives. Paul is writing to disciples; he is writing to people who are suffering for Jesus Christ; he is writing to people in a city where Paul himself was once imprisoned with Silas, and Paul writes to the Philippians as a prisoner. Paul is writing from a city in which he is a prisoner to Christians in a city where he was once a prisoner. When Paul and Silas were prisoners in Philippi they were miraculously set free (Acts 16); such is not the case in his Roman imprisonment, in fact, he likely writes after years of imprisonment. Yet Paul writes, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content,” (Philippians 4:11). When Paul writes about “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,” he is writing about his own experience in Jesus Christ.

I think the phrase “in Christ Jesus,” and its equivalents, may be the most important phrase in the Bible, for it roots our life in Christ, and in rooting our life it roots our thinking, our heart, our soul, and our body. As Jesus says, “…without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Which Lens?

Why do we read the Bible through the lens of religious tradition rather than view religious tradition through the Bible?

Countless times in Bible studies I’ve witnessed us interpreting the Bible through tradition and things we’ve been told, rather than encountering the Biblical text as it is written. It is as if we don’t really “read” the text because we already know what it means, we already know what is important. Rather than allowing the Bible to transform us into the image of Christ, we attempt to form the Bible into our image.

Oh how I wish someone had taught me to read the Bible when I was a young Christian.