James, according to Philip Jenkins , the noted historian and sociologist, is one of the most popular books of the Bible for many Christians in Africa. It is practical and direct in its advice, and gives easy to follow advice on living the Christian life in daily situations.
Most of James 3 focuses on “the tongue” with a special reminder for those of us who teach, that we will be judged more strictly for what we do…implying for what we say.
The centrality of the tongue in teaching and in messing up our lives because of bad things we say to ourselves and others, is at the core of much moral failings in our world.
I love to talk. That love has been detrimental to me and to others. It has also been a blessing.
When I was 11 years old, I remember my identical twin brother, who was a boy of few words and more action, turn to me and said, “in this world, we all get so many words, and you just used up all your words for your entire life.”
At first, it stopped me cold, but then I wanted to talk about that with him and back I went using words
But as I have looked back on my life and see the mix of damage and grace my words have created, I have been driven to finding ways to live the call of James. One way has been writing, where at least we can delete words before they go out to the public, thus minimizing their damage and hopefully growing their support to human growth—which is what teaching is all about.
But what got my attention one day, is the central driving reality behind the tongue: wisdom.
At the end of this passage he transitions to the source of words: wisdom, either the foolish wisdom of the world or “the wisdom that comes from heaven” which is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
But it was reading a paraphrase of James 3:17 that translated the KJV “easy to be intreated” phrase or the being reasonable as “easy to please.”
It was in that moment, that I hiccupped my own deep challnges. When I heard God’s wisdom is easy to please, I found myself almost instinctually sarcastic. “Yea, right.” God is easy to please.
I wrestled with that translation and my own response for a long time.
Was God easy to please, even a gentle negotiator who was very reasonable? Didn’t he demand perfection (Matt 7), didn’t he tell us to forsake all and follow him, denying our families and even our own lives. This was a good who wanted it all, asking me everyday to do better, be on top of my work, etc… telling me he was reasonable. I couldn’t handle it. You told me yesterday to love my enemies and at the same time bring a sword because he and I would brought bring division.
Jesus, where is the reasonableness, and where is the easy to please in your life, in your requests.
If anything, Jesus looked a lot like me, bi-polar, making and changing his demands at every whim, making it impossible for me to ever, ever follow Him.
And I wish I could tell you I have settled this confusion, but I can only report that is a confusion that made me more interested in getting to know Jesus. With a veiled vision, with a distorted mind, I can only say, I think by being drawn to this paradox, I will find a way to improve my own speech.
Jesus as reasonable. I love it. I want to be like that. I want to be submissive and quiet and listen to others and see how I can go along with their plans. Not be in control. Be negotiable, flexible, and in that try to control less with my tongue and be controlled more by His spirit of gentleness.
And when I doubt rather God is reasonable and negotiable and easy to please, I think of His most hated enemy, Satan. Because of His extremely long-suffering in dealing with Satan. I am immediately given evident that Jesus must be far more reasonable than Satan has lead me to believe.
Satan, and God’s willingness to let Him continue to live, stands as the greatest example of how “easy to please” or reasonable, or willing to adapt Jesus really is.
Satan, the very one trying to create false evidence of God’s character, often most often through my own tongue, has in His own existence the very evidence that God is more than willing to negotiate, to work out something, to reason through it with me.
O, God, save me from my stupid tongue and even worse, my narrow mind.
I can’t get out of my mind, this new vision of Jesus as easy to please, as reasonable, as the most powerful King that is willing to negotiate and work out a plan with even his worst enemies.
This is a God worth not only serving but being like.
Thanks you Jesus, for capturing my imagination with this new image of you. Help me grow in understanding and living such a radical morality.