JAMES 3 – Ash Wednesday
On the morning when I first wrote this post, I’d woken to a text message on my phone. The person wanted to “put the past behind us” and rekindle their relationship with me. As I stood incredulously shaking my head while staring at the text, and speechlessly at their obvious heart-felt desire, I could feel myself backed into a corner. Without an apology, I was expected to unconditionally take the hand offered to me. Then I read today’s chapter…
The problem with a bushfire is that the smoke causes reduced visibility. You have no idea if you’re heading away from the fire or walking into disaster. It’s also insidious. The high winds generated by the heat, are volatile. This can cause the bushfire to swing round to get you from behind. It leaps over barriers. It licks the oxygen out of the water that you’re trying to throw on it. It’s fast, it’s shocking, and it leaves nothing but charred remains in its wake. No-one’s a winner in a bushfire – there’s only ever “measurable levels of destruction”.
In this same way, James tells us that the tongue is also a fire, with the ability to set ablaze the whole course of one’s life. [v6] What’s incredible, is that today’s message to directed first at the teachers – those who give the appearance of never being at fault, and apparently able to keep their whole body in check. [v2] This, of course, is not at all possible for any human – and I (one of the teachers) least of all.
So, Peter encourages people away from seeking the role of teaching because those who open their mouths will be judged, even more strictly, on what comes out of it! [v1] With this in mind, you can be sure that I am fully aware of what I write to you every day. I’m aware of my short-comings and prefer to avoid topics about “the goings on” of other people. This choice in itself, pretty much narrows down the scope for meaningful conversation (where an opinion is welcomed) to topics on animals, nature and Father God!
Now I could be accused of being a narrow thinker. But when you put bits in the mouths of horses, you can turn the whole animal. [v3] If I’m to see real, directional-change in my life, it really starts with putting a bit in my mouth! If my life is like a ship at sea, I need to decide now where I want to end up. Then, set my course by fixing “my rudder” into place. [v4]
Jesus said that what’s in the heart comes out of the mouth.[a] Or, again:
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”[b]
That being true, I don’t want my tongue to give me away. I’d prefer to “muzzle my tongue” – as impossible as James says this is [v7-8] – than to be known by those around me, as an evil person inside and out. [v5-6] But this is a rather egocentric approach to what James is saying here in this portion of his letter. While it’s true that I’m to focus on my image (which becomes clearly evident to all because of my mouth), James throws in the real reason for not being a walking disaster – or someone who manages to leave charred remains in their wake everywhere they go…
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” [v9]
Most gossips in “religious circles” would be upset if you told them that they were “blaspheming” or cursing God. They would never do such a thing!! But they’re quite happy to “roast the preacher”, or passionately complain about some ungodly person who was put into leadership above them! Driving home from a worship meeting, they’re feeling “righteous” in exposing someone else’s sin. But all the while, they’re throwing mud on an image of God – a person that He made in His own image and likeness. [v9-10]
Now let’s go back to that text message that I mentioned at the start of this post, and to the person who is somehow so blind to their behaviour that they have the audacity to even suggest a restoration in their relationship with me.
Few people on the planet would respond positively if they knew the story behind the text I received on my phone that day. But then again, there’s not a person alive who’d know just how many times my Maker has relented and forgiven me! Can fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? Can olives grow on a fig tree or figs on a grapevine? [v11-12] If I want to end up in a right relationship with my Maker at the end of my life, I have no other choice but to fix “my rudder” today.
I responded positively for getting a birthday text from her and waffled about not being so good at remembering to write on other people’s birthdays. But I stopped short of saying, “Yes! Sure, I want to forget what you’ve done and restore my relationship with you!” …“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” [v13]
I don’t want to become a bitter person – denying the truth about myself and what Father God has so kindly done for me. [v14] This sort of scaffolding used to support my life would be earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. [v15] If you think that natural disasters (like the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Australia), are horrific enough, our newspapers and gossip magazines are ablaze with destructive fires on the one hand, and saturated with disorder and every evil practice on the other. [v16] So James hands us a parting thought…
“…wisdom, that comes from heaven, is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” At the start of my day, his words seem to flow over me like a cool, refreshing shower. It cleanses the thoughts of my heart and washes away the charred memories of yesterday.
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[a] Matthew 15:10-20 (Ref: v18)
[b] Matthew 12:35