Week Fifty Reading Assignment:
2 Timothy 3 - James 4
"Do not be scared of the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority.... A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know anything all his life."
This Week's Teaching Video: The Bible's French-to-English Dictionary
Charting our Progress
Good Book Review: Masterful Memo
The traditional term used for 21 of the New Testament’s 27 books is “epistles.” For example, Paul’s epistle to Philemon.
It’s an appropriate term to use, but it may distance us from the material a bit. It makes the writings seem a bit more formal and inaccessible, for you and I don’t use the term for anything that we write.
I prefer to think of Paul’s epistle to Philemon, therefore, as a memo. It’s a brief note designed to get something done. And the thing that Paul is trying to get done is a very touchy business.
Paul is returning to Philemon a slave, Onesimus, who belonged to Philemon. This slave, however, had run away from his master some time earlier.
Now slaves were property, and the owner could dispose of his property as he saw fit. And so a runaway who was returned to his master’s custody could expect brutal punishment and cruel treatment.
But Paul didn’t want Onesimus to be treated cruelly. Paul wanted Philemon to welcome him warmly — not as an insolent slave or a disposable piece of property, but rather as a cherished brother in Christ.
To get the job done, Paul skillfully reminds Philemon of the pecking order. Philemon outranks his slave, and thus doesn’t need to please him. But there are others above Philemon, and how he treats Onesimus should aim to please them.
"Only the Word of God makes us wholesome and blessed. The divine Word brings faith. Faith brings love. Love results in good deeds."
Speaking of Words
During this week, we will read most of the letter from James, including his famous discussion of the human tongue (3:1-12). His indictment is harsh, but we know that it is not unwarranted. The power of the tongue is, indeed, all out of proportion to its size. And we recognize just from listening to ourselves the unnatural incongruity of the words that we utter.
James' strong words about words are not an isolated teaching in Scripture. The writer of Proverbs, for example, says that "death and life are in the power of the tongue" (18:21 NASB). He counsels that the person "who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles" (21:23 NASB). And he states rather baldly that "the more you talk, the more likely you are to sin" (19:10 TEV).
Consider for a moment the sins that originate in the mouth. Gossip, bearing false witness, blasphemy, lying, angry and hateful words, cursing, and all kinds of coarse speech, to name a few. At least three of the Ten Commandments involve our speech. No wonder, then, that Christians have for generations categorized sin in terms of thoughts, words, and deeds.
Meanwhile, Jesus' teachings about the power and significance of our words are even more dramatic than what we find in James and Proverbs. In contrast to the Pharisees' emphasis on what they put into their mouths, Jesus said, "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles" (Matthew 15:11 NRSV). Why? Because what goes in simply goes through and out again. But what comes out, Jesus notes, originates in the heart (verse 18). It should not surprise us, then, when He says that "by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:37 NRSV).
The ancient Psalmist recognized the vital connection between our words and our hearts. Thus he prayed, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord" (Psalm 19:14 NRSV). Given the profound impact and importance of words, that is a prayer worth praying first thing every day.