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Bear, Believe, Hope and Endure (The Tongue pt. 2)

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When I saw that both Jesus and James mentioned “hell” and “fire” in reference to the use of our tongue, I knew there was something there worth looking into.  James says our tongue IS a fire, ignited by hell (which I think means the tongue tends toward judgment/condemnation and can easily incite widespread damage).  Here’s a passage from James chapter 3 which I find very thought-provoking:

(James 3:2-12 ESV): “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 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.”

The tongue is simply an outlet to express the heart (mind, awareness, thoughts), so the heart is the real issue.  That being said, our words are uniquely important because they carry the internal things of our heart into the external world, with tremendous potential for a lasting positive or negative influence on the hearts of others.  (A simple example would be this).  James seems find it especially repulsive that our tongue is used as an instrument of both blessing and poison/cursing, using several analogies to show how perverse this is.  As I read, I began to wonder: what does it actually look like and mean to “curse” someone?  I realized many scriptures mention blessing and cursing as opposites, so if we know what blessing is, then it’s reverse will be cursing.

The Greek word for “blessing” is eulogia, a compound of eu, meaning “good, well,” and logos, meaning (roughly) “speech, communication.”  Generally speaking, I would say blessing means “to speak well of, to put in a favorable position.”  Cursing then is the opposite, meaning “to speak negatively of, to put in an unfavorable position.”  Again, the mouth is essentially the heart’s outlet, therefore if our heart (mind, awareness, and thoughts) is focused on someone’s flesh – their old, selfish, corrupt nature – then sooner or later our mouth will follow; pointing out flaws, criticizing, and condemning, thus putting that person in an unfavorable position before God and man.  That’s speaking a curse, even if what we’re saying is true.  Cursing highlights sin and flaws, as opposed to love, which “covers a multitude of sins.”1

If our heart (mind, awareness, and thoughts) has been purified by the realization of all things being made new in Christ, we will see according to love,2 seeing everyone (at least potentially) as “made in the likeness of God” and a new creation in Christ.  If that is so, how can we speak a curse to them?  Didn’t James say blessing and cursing from the same mouth “ought not to be?” In another place, the apostle Paul wrote that love thinks no evil of anyone, but always bears, believes, hopes and endures all.3  I believe he meant this: love does not in any way relate to men by their flesh or sins, but bears the burden of men’s ignorant and selfish ways, believes they are still made in the image of God, hopes they will “come to their senses” and acknowledge this, and endures whatever hardships come until this takes place. 

Hopefully it’s now clearer why blessing and cursing from the same mouth is a bad sign – it shows a mind/heart that isn’t matured in love, and love is the goal.  Jesus Christ, as “the last Adam” and “the second man,” became in his death the end of Adam’s race, and in his resurrection the first member of a new race of men.4  Many don’t see or acknowledge that, and what will happen to those people is God’s business, but those who do are to regard no one according to the flesh anymore.5  To speak a curse is to be an agent of the law, making people self-aware by pointing out their shortcomings and failures.  Interestingly, when James say the tongue is “full of deadly poison,” it literally says “death-bringing poison,” and scripture teaches law is what empowers and brings death!6  To speak a blessing is to be an agent of grace, seeing beyond the flaws of someone’s flesh and thus speaking to them life-giving things, making them aware of the divine spirit of God within them, the hope of the new creation that began with Christ.  This doesn’t mean we pretend no flaws exist, and sometimes we might need to point out things that are hindering people from walking as sons and daughters of God.  But it does mean we don’t consider or speak to people based on their flaws, but based on the presence or potential for the seed/spirit of God within them.

I’m not sure if I’ll make another post about the tongue next time or not, we’ll see where I’m led.  Grace and peace to you all.

 

 

  1. 1 Peter 4:8
  2. 1 Peter 1:22
  3. 1 Corinthians 13:5-7 KJV.  “Things” isn’t in the original Greek, but was added by the translators.
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47.  See also this and this.  
  5. 2 Corinthians 5:16
  6. Romans 7:5, 1 Corinthians 15:56
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Liable to Judgment (The Tongue Pt. 1)

Power of Words

The things we say and think are incredibly, incredibly important.  Our words, which express the thoughts of our heart, have such tremendous potential to edify or damage the heart of others that Jesus said even his own disciples could be “liable to the hell of fire” if their words tore down their brothers or sisters.  As I looked closer at what Jesus and the apostles had to say about the tongue, I was honestly surprised how radical some of their statements were.  I quoted a few of their statements below, with my commentary in blue.  As you read, keep in mind that Jesus’ “new commandment” to his followers was to love one-another as he loved us.  This “law of love” is much deeper than the written law of Moses which was the central focus of Israel before Christ.  The primary difference between the two is that the law of love deals with the heart, not just outward behavior. (I wrote a lot more about that recently, here and here).

(Matthew 5:21-22 ESV): (Jesus said) “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Notice the escalation in the offenses and punishments: first anger resulting in liability to judgment, then insult resulting in liability to “the council” (literally “the Sanhedrin,” a religious court in Jesus’ day), and finally an attack on a brother’s identity making one liable to the hell of fire.  To understand what “the hell of fire” refers to, we have to understand what is meant by “hell.”  The Greek word translated “hell” is gehenna, which comes from a mixture of two Hebrew words, meaning the “valley of Hinnom.”  In my opinion, “hell” is a very confusing translation of this word, carrying ideas with it that are very different from what Jesus meant. This illustrates why it’s vital that you seek for yourself and not just “be carried along”1 with what you’re taught.  The valley of Hinnom was a literal place in Jesus’ day, just south of Jerusalem (more info about it here).  It was previously used as a place of idol worship and sacrifice, but in Jesus’ day it was used like a landfill, where dead bodies and trash would be dumped and burned.  Gehenna/hell was therefore used by Jesus as a familiar physical illustration of a spiritual place or state where filth and death would be burned up and destroyed.

(Matthew 12:34-37 ESV): (Jesus said) “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Again, our words (and thoughts) reveal the true state of our heart and affect the heart of others, hence their importance. Jesus particularly warns against “careless” words, or “idle” words in other translations, but neither really brings out Jesus’ meaning very well.  The Greek word translated “careless” is argos, which means “idle, inactive, unhelpful.”  Jesus’ point is that we will be held liable for every useless, unhelpful, unedifying, or harmful word we speak, especially toward others within the body of Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes love, saying in one place love doesn’t reckon wrongdoing against someone, but it believes and hopes the best for them; viewing them (and speaking to them), I believe, not according to their actions, but in light of the radical shift that was made at the cross of Christ.  God is looking for His spirit within us to bear the fruit of love, and what we think and say (to others and to ourself) not only reflects what’s in our heart, but can help edify or damage the potential for His love in another’s heart. 

(James 1:26 ESV): “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  I think what James is saying is if you believe in your heart that you are religious (pleasing to God by your works) yet speak things that aren’t edifying and founded on truth and love, then you’re deceived, because God considers the heart,2 and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  In other words, no matter what you claim or think, if your tongue isn’t bridled to only speak what is edifying and true, then your heart is corrupt and your religion (outward service to God) is worthless, period.   In my next post, I want to look at the most extensive passage on “the tongue” in the New Testament, found in James chapter 3, and I want to examine the interesting fact that both Jesus and James make a connection between the tongue, hell, and fire, to see what they meant.  Should be very interesting and enlightening.  God bless you.

  1. (Ephesians 4:14 KJV): “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…” Luke 16:15: “And (Jesus) said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
  2. (Luke 16:15) And (Jesus) said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?search=God+heart&version=KJV&searchtype=all&bookset=2&resultspp=100
 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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