Is anyone familiar with “Aesop’s Fables”? Aesop lived way before Christ (c. 620-564 B.C.). Even though some of you may not know about Aesop, I’m sure you know some of his “morals of the story.” After each brief tale he wrote, he always ended with a phrase that summarized the main idea of what the story was trying to teach. For example, there is the fable of “The Fox and the Lion”:
“When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the wood. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watch him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony. [The moral of the story is] Familiarity Breeds Contempt” (from quote/counterquote website)
How many times does this happen in relationships? The more you get to know about others, the more you discover about them, and the more you discover about them, you realize that you really don’t like them as much as you thought you did. Sadly, it happens in marriages, in roommate situations, in working relationships, in friendships, and even [especially] in Christian churches and other Christian organizations. For example, in the 1980s, I lived and worked at a residential Christian school for disabled children and adults. Everyone who lived and worked at this school were considered to be “indigenous missionaries.” We saw one another everyday, worked with one another, ate meals with one another, did almost everything with one another. One would think, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we would grow to be one big happy family. To some extent we were, but there was also lot of gossiping going on and clichés formed. Sadly, I took part in the gossip and the backbiting, for which I am not very proud of and have confessed to the Lord my wrong and have asked for His forgiveness and His help in “giving up” this very bad habit [sin].
When a group of people live so closely together, they tend to find out one another‘s “warts” [weaknesses and sins] and there is the danger of “giving in” to our own sinful nature and gossip about and find fault with one another. Instead of accepting those “whose faith is weak [or who have different views], without passing judgment on disputable matters…” and making “every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:1, 19), Christians find themselves jockeying for position to make their personal preferences become how the group does things. Christians especially can be sanctimonious in what they say about others by “asking for prayer” when what they are really doing is gossiping. When we are doing this we are only fooling ourselves. God sees our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10). God also gives us every opportunity to ask for forgiveness and He also helps us to stop our sinful habit of behavior (I John 1:9). This is called REPENTANCE: Agreeing with God, turning away from sin and turning to God’s way.
This is what my church is doing. After much struggle over sin, we are all striving to become an “authentic community” of believers who love and care for one another, and being accepting of our differences. One way to become an “authentic community” is to stop gossiping about one another, stop talking about someone behind his/her back and stop grumbling complaining, and being driven by a critical spirit. Instead, we are to encourage one another, lift one another up, put one another before ourselves, and love one another as Christ loves us (Ephesians 5:1-2).
How we use our words is very important to God. God’s Word tells us what God hates to see in His people and also what He is pleased to see in His people. Jesus also teaches, in God’s Word, that it is important for His followers to guard their hearts from evil and to ask for forgiveness NOW, rather than later. These Scriptures below cause me to ask myself, “What do I carry in my heart? What do I let into my heart? Is there anything I need to confess and ask forgiveness for? Am I being judgmental in any way to my brother or sister in Christ?” (There is one thing I am sure of, and it is this: I do not need to listen to talk radio or watch cable news to listen to hate-mongers or do I need to watch TV soap operas to fill my heart with all kinds of nasty junk. Doing these things are very harmful. Besides, I have enough trouble with my sinful heart without those things.)
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man [woman] who stirs up dissension among brothers [sisters]” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head… It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows His blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-2b, 3).
Jesus teaches His disciples [including us], “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ [an Aramaic term of CONTEMPT], is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 521-24).
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 71-3).
Jesus warns the hypocritical Pharisees and us, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-34).
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
I desire my words to be pleasing to the Lord. I pray that God will stop hurtful and thoughtless words from coming out of my mouth. My heart’s longing is to only use words of healing, thoughtfulness, encouragement – words filled with God’s mercy and grace.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all…Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:2-6, 25, 29-32)
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life…” (Philippians 2”14-16a)
How can I ever begin to “give up” gossiping, grumbling and complaining and having a critical spirit, starting right now and through the Lenten Season and from now on, when it is so easy to “give in” to these old sinful habits? The truth is, I can’t do it on my own will power, but I can do it through the power of Jesus Christ.
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 12-8).
How do I begin to glorify God with my words? James gives me very simple advice, yet it is so difficult to carry out:
“My dear brothers [sisters] take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
James is telling me to think before I speak. There’s an old saying, “We have two ears and one mouth because God wants us to listen twice as much as we speak.” What a difference that would make – to really listen to what a person is saying to us, then think about our response before speaking. BRILLIANT! James also counsels me to be careful of hypocrisy:
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:26-27).
James is saying to not only say what I believe, but to do what I believe God wants me to do and to keep my promises. James also advises not to “fuel the flame” of gossip or hearsay:
“Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God‘s likeness. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:5-10).
The tongue can only be tamed by God’s wisdom:
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18).
The wisdom that comes from heaven does not slander or grumble against brothers and sisters in Christ, nor does it make false promises:
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only One Lawgiver and Judge, the One Who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:10-12).
“Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9).
“Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no, or you will be condemned” (James 5:12). [I think this means no one will believe you and you will be “condemned” as a liar.)
James’ last advice about speech is to be honest with one another and acknowledge when I say something wrong to my brothers and sister and ask for their forgiveness and God’s. Acknowledging my sin, rather than deny I did anything wrong, is using wisdom from God. It is also good to have your brothers and sisters pray for an area in your life that you are having trouble “giving up” to God.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
With all these Scriptures in mind, and praying over them, I have thought of questions to ask myself before I speak:
1. Why do I want to talk about this?
2. Will what I want to say be helpful, healing, and meet the need of the hearer?
3. Will the person be interested in what I want to say or does it have nothing to do with the hearer?
4. If I’m going to talk about a person, would s/he want me to share his/her information with others?
5. Would I be talking about him/her if she was in the room?
6. Will I be spreading a rumor?
7. How can I “give up“ my critical spirit and “give in” to the Holy Sprit’s “Attitude of Gratitude”?
A. Say “Thank You” early and often. There is always something to be thankful for.
B. Give sincere compliments early and often. There is always something to compliment some for.
C. Always be looking for times to say “THANK YOU” and times to give compliments to people.
D. Always give THANKS to God.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Please pray for me – that during this Lenten Season, I will “give up” total control of all that I think and say to God our Father, for the praise and honor of Jesus our Savior, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Please pray that I get closer to living out my “Life’s Verse”, I Thessalonians 4:11-12: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands [Blog], just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anyone [BUT GOD].”
“Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
[F.Y.I.: If you have never eaten a PACZKI, you have never eaten a jelly or custard filled doughnut! They are “jammed” packed with filling. I think tomorrow [March 4th ], “Fat Tuesday” will be the last day you can buy them at BIG Y. They a OUTSTANDING!]
Joyful and Thankful in the Lord!