The Taming of the Tongue
“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” [James 3:10 NKJV]
Ought not to be so. But often this is the way it is. From my own mouth both blessings and cursing have come forth…to my shame.
We live in a blame culture. Whenever there is some disaster, whether a train derailed or a plane plunged into a mountain, the clamour quickly rises: who is responsible? We must have blood. A scapegoat. Someone to blame. The news outlets and papers hound anyone they can get in front of a camera or a microphone and ask “whose fault is it?”
And, sadly, this culture extends into the Ekklesia. Now, whether that is because we are trying to be relevant – more like the rest of the world, or whether we have been deceived into thinking that it is ok, it is difficult to say. But, from my own experience, I can safely say that it exists. But what I found astonishing after a recent humbling revelation is quite what lengths I am prepared to go to justify myself when it comes to criticising others. My tongue will both freely criticise other members of the body and teach more still the dangers of doing just that. What does that make me? Yep, that’s right…hypocrite.
The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible offers this insight into the meaning of the Greek word ‘hypokrites’ – an actor under an assumed character or a dissembler. Take your pick. Neither are particularly flattering to a man who would teach others. I know this, and yet I managed to continue to criticise others openly. Why? Because I subscribed to the blame culture thinking. I can tell you that such thinking is very subtle because you ‘feel’ justified in doing so, especially if you have been hurt. Feel justified…but not justified. Not in the eyes of God.
Let me tell you the revelation. You will understand then of what I am talking. We had been constantly and steadfastly praying into a particular situation for a lengthy period of time. This particular situation God has clearly spoken into and revealed His will. And yet, over the past months it has felt almost constantly as if we were walking through treacle. Now, if you know God is ‘in’ something you start trying all sorts of stuff. We ‘bound’ this and ‘loosed’ that. We declared this and denounced that…and nothing changed. We fasted, we begged, we cried out…and nothing changed.
I was aware that there was a problem. It was easy to blame the devil, the spiritual atmosphere, hey anything we could…because it couldn’t be us, could it? God is on our side. We know His will. It couldn’t possibly be us…could it? But no matter what I asked of God there appeared to be silence. Now anyone who knows me will acknowledge that I don’t take silence to be an answer and so I asked someone we both trust to pray ‘into’ the situation. We were careful not to give too many details – that is our policy – we ONLY ask God for what we need and avoid wherever possible furnishing people with the details of what we are praying for. That way when it comes to pass we are able to give the rightful glory to God and not to someone whom has taken a hint from us.
So we asked.
There was a delay.
Then…”SHUT RIGHT UP.”
Immediately I felt the cold, sharp arrow of conviction pierce my flesh. I knew exactly what was being said to us. It penetrated deep within me and I felt quite sick. SHUT RIGHT UP. The rest of the sentence hardly needs completeing but here it is: SHUT RIGHT UP about other churches/leaderships.
My reaction was immediate repentance. I had openly spoken badly of other parts of the Ekklesia and its leaders. I had criticised other people’s methods and responses. And then I had had the audacity to ask God to bless what we were doing. And I hadn’t just criticised them once or twice, no I had promoted a blame culture about them and their churches because I had ‘felt’ justified in doing so. I had ‘acted’ as an assumed character and used my tongue to dissemble the work they were doing. I had become a hypocrite.
Over the next couple of days the Holy Spirit unveiled both the depth and effect of my hypocrisy. I felt very foolish. I knew just how damaging the tongue could be and, because I felt justified in doing so, I ignored the very same advice I was giving to others, in order to become a poisoned well. No wonder my prayers hung in the air motionless.
The thing I love about God the most is that He will shine His glorious light into our lives and continue and persevere with you until the work is completed. He doesn’t just tear you down and leave you in a heap on the floor; He leans down and picks you up and shows you a better way.
A Better Way
In the gospel of Matthew, at chapter 18, we find the following text:
‘Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” ‘[Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV]
A better way. With Jesus there is ALWAYS a better way. It doesn’t matter how smart we might think we are, how justified we might feel in a certain course of action, with Jesus there is always a better way.
Jesus continues to tell Peter the parable of the unforgiving servant. He prefaces the parable with “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like…” So, He is telling us that this is what it is actually like in this invisible kingdom that is all around us all of the time. The parable tells of a king who decides to settle his accounts with his servants. One of his servants owed him 10,000 talents (that’s a lot) but didn’t have the means to pay. The king commands that he be sold along with his wife and children and all that he had so that payment can be made for what he owed. The servant fell before the king and pleaded for more time to pay. The king was moved with compassion and showed mercy by releasing the servant AND forgiving his debt! Pretty good deal. I’d take it…
Now instead of living a life worthy of such a merciful release the servant goes and finds a fellow servant who owes him a small amount and assaults him and demands payment. This other servant falls at his feet and he too asks for more time to pay. You would think that having been shown mercy by the king that the first servant would also show mercy. But no, he throws his fellow servant into prison until he could pay the debt.
Naturally there is an outcry amongst other fellow servants who call out to the king. The king responds by delivering the first servant to the torturers until the debt is cleared.
The final line of the parable reads thus: “So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” [Verse 35]
You see, what was coming out of my mouth wasn’t the real problem, but a symptom of the problem. The problem was that I hadn’t forgiven someone whom I felt had trespassed against me. And because I felt that they had trespassed against me I also felt justified in criticising them.
Now the world sees no problem with this. Criticism is all part of the way to conducts itself. But we are the Ekklesia – the called out, who don’t subscribe to the way the world does things. We follow the better way…Jesus. He said “I am the Way.” We follow Him. We don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world (Romans 12)…we follow Him.
I am grateful to God for showing me my hypocrisy. It could have been that He didn’t. But He is merciful and if you ask He will always answer (Matthew 7). He showed me the problem and then showed me the solution. But in the midst of all this He also showed us why it is such a problem.
In the parable the second servant is thrown into jail by the first because he refuses to forgive his debt. Even at the end of the parable when the king hands the first servant over to the torturers (literally the bill collectors), the servant in jail is still there. The king cannot release him because the debt doesn’t rest with the king. The debt rests with the first servant – only he can release him by forgiving the debt. In other words, if I don’t forgive my brother who trespasses against me then I might as well throw him in prison and loose the key.
The natural consequence of not forgiving someone is that I start to criticise them. God has shown us that this has a devastating effect on both me and the person I criticise.
Revelation 12:10 says: “…for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night…”
This is real. This isn’t just a vision. This is real. The accuser stands before God day and night and accuses the Ekklesia. What does he accuse us of? Well, in my case he has been using what I said against my brother to accuse him and keep him in prison and he has used my unforgiveness and criticism of my brother to object to my prayers being answered.
I have now repented and can stand before God truly justified and able to boldly ask for that which I believe to be His will. Remember the Lord’s Prayer? A bit out of fashion in these days of trendy formulas in churches I know. But it is all there:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
To be continue…