by Michael E. Brooks
“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:8-10).
A Bangla friend and I stood on the deck of a ferry at sunset, listening as a bearded Muslim chanted his prayers loudly for all to hear. A few minutes later the same man was talking just as loudly to a bystander, and my friend smiled. I asked what was funny, and he replied, “Now he (the Muslim) is cursing as strongly as he was praying before.”
Hypocrisy and shallowness of conviction do not flatter any religion or practitioner. Perhaps nothing drew the ire of Jesus more frequently or strongly than just such pious showing as we witnessed in Bangladesh. Regarding the Scribes and Pharisees he commanded,
“Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them …. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matthew 23:3, 5-7).
It may well be that it is in the area of speech that we most often offend. Not just in “blessing and cursing” with the same mouth, as James describes, but also in the angry, irreverent or untruthful things we say to and about others, including the God whom we profess to serve. It has always seemed significant that in Ephesians 4:25-31, of the ten behaviors which Paul commands us to “put away,” four are explicit acts of speech, and most of the others are often expressed in speech. This passage describes the change of life which accompanies “put[ting] on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).
It is imperative that we not only add religious activities, but that we purge ungodly actions and speech as well. Christianity cannot be genuinely practiced simultaneously with profanity, blasphemy, lies and malicious gossip. We must “lay aside” these aspects of our “old self” (Ephesians 4:22), and “be renewed in the spirit of [our] mind” (verse 23).
In our modern era which so stresses style and image, as opposed to substance, the appearance of religion is easy to assume, without an accompanying depth of conviction. It is easy to profess faith in Jesus, much more difficult to actually live by his teachings. The Bible is very plain in its rejection of such attempts. We are to do as we say, or more correctly, to do as he has said. Anything less “ought not to be this way.”
by Michael E. Brooks