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Monday, May 25, 2009


Bridling the Tongue

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (Jas 1:19-21 AV)

James has been talking about trials that come and the reason they come: to prove and purify our faith, as fire does the gold and silver. Now comes an exhortation and warning: shut up and listen.

In the midst of trial the temptation is to speak first, listen second, think last. Result, a bad thing is made far worse. This is especially true in church. Every church worth its salt has some method for solving problems and working out disputes. None of them include running from house to house, complaining and describing our hurt feelings.

In those circumstances our words take on the character of filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. The word "naughtiness" used in the King James perfectly describes the meaning of the Greek. "Naughtiness" is derived for the word "naught' which means "nothing" or "of no value." The basket of very naughty figs that Jeremiah saw were so rotten they were worth nothing, or worse than nothing. A naughty child is one whose behavior is worthless and rotten.

The phrase "superfluity of naughtiness" then is paradoxical, "overflowing with nothingness" or possessing a great deal of negative value. A perfect description of the things we say under stress if we do not remember to "be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath."

We will never accomplish the work of God by the wrath of man. The wrath of man is deadly, destructive, deadly to the Christian and the church.

The elders of the church must be sensitive to the destructive character of the wrath of man, and not yield to it. They must be careful not to provoke it, and to teach people how to solve disputes, using the methods described in the bible and church constitutions. By no means must they allow people to bypass the constitutions.

The rule of Christ in the church is through those elders and deacons and ministers appointed by Him and chosen by the consent of the people. When people despise these elders and deacons and ministers and bypass their government and rule, they attack the very structure of the church and the rule of Christ in the church. This must not be allowed, for bullies then usurp the government of the church. In well regulated churches, there are lawful means to removed or suspend officers who misbehave, but no individual has the right to unilaterally resist the authority.

A person who drives through a stop sign, may not have seen the sign, and may be convinced that he is innocent of any wrong. However, if he refuses to stop when pursued by a policeman watching the intersection and tries to flee, he becomes guilty of a greater offense. If he then refuses to obey a summons to come to court and resists the officer who is sent with orders to arrest him, he has become guilty of a great many very serious offenses and be subject to a heavy fine and imprisonment. If he still refuses to submit in prison, his very life may be placed in jeopardy.

If the courts and the officers, however, refuse to enforce the provisions of the law, the very life of the society is placed in danger. The stop sign is there for a reason to protect the life of the innocent. If the rebellious person is allowed to run the sign with impunity, he endangers his own life as well as the lives of others.

Thus it is with the tongue. James is going to write a long essay on the evils of a lawless tongue [Chapter 3], but he sums up this section by saying, James 1:26 "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain."

His religion is as empty and as rotten as the "superfluity of naughtiness" that comes from his mouth. Men speak out of the abundance of the heart, and will give account for ever idle [vain] word that they say.
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