Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dealing with Dangerous Weapons – Guns, Cell Phones…What Else?

Our Advent Wreath and Candles
During this holiday season, I have been impressed by a series of “Christmas contrasts.”  First, Christmas lights have seemed brighter when they are surrounded by the deepest darkness.   Second, Christmas Joy and Hope have been more assuring to me in the midst of our nation’s troubling economic and political climate.  And third, Christmas songs of peace and the promises of Christ’s return have fortified me when I was made aware of several tragic events in the news and then faced some disappointing happenings like we all face in the holiday season.

But sharp contrasts have been part and parcel of Christmas since the joy of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds at Jesus’ birth was punctuated by the murderous threat of King Herod.  I am reminded of the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the third stanza of the old hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:”

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Why is it that even in the season of peace on Earth we find so many intrusions by events that remind us that hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men?  Perhaps those who favor gun control are right.  When we control or even eliminate guns perhaps that will eliminate murder.  But, let’s see—then we’d also have to eliminate other potentially dangerous tools like clubs, knives, and even matches.  Then what about drugs and poisons, and why not eliminate the big soft drinks and foods with trans-fats.  Finally, we almost forgot the most dangerous weapon of all.  This weapon, our tongue, is according to the apostle James one that is humanly impossible to control (James 3: 5).  Short of surgical removal, how can this dangerous member be controlled?

James 4: 1 provides an answer:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?
Is not the source your
desire for pleasures
that wage war in your members?

Spiritual warfare within us erupts in the form of fighting and quarreling (v. 2) and by an uncontrolled tongue (James 3: 1-12).  All of these expressions in one combination or another have been part of human strife since Adam uttered blame toward Eve for his sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 12), and Adam’s son Cain killed his brother Abel.  

The weapons for killing have advanced over the years from clubs to semi-automatics and aerial drones.  What we have stated elsewhere in Oikonomia (“No Gun Control without Self Control” should be obvious.  We must address the deeper cause of violence, the human heart.  Jesus set a higher standard than the Old Testament law, “Thou shall not murder.”   He pointed us to the same “war within our members” that we have just read from the pen of His half-brother James.  Jesus said (emphasis mine):

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother
shall be guilty before the court;
and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,'
shall be guilty before the supreme court
… -- Matthew 5: 22

Notice that Jesus is pointing out the “early warnings” in a progression beginning with anger and hateful speech that could lead to fighting and even murder;.  These warnings from the Lord Jesus are even more important in our present culture.  Just as the weapons for killing become more advanced and plentiful, so also the vehicles to spread hateful words have advanced from simply word-of-mouth to the printed page to telecommunications and the internet .  Whereas, it once required weeks or months to spread damaging speech from continent to continent, it can now occur within seconds!   

Justine Sacco, while traveling by airplane from London to South Africa, launched a few careless words on Twitter about the AIDS crisis in Africa.   While her plane was still flying toward Cape Town, her words were being retweeted thousands of times and was picked up by media outlets around the world!  The fiery exchanges that resulted from the tiny spark from Sacco’s phone has led to her firing as a communications director, in spite of her apology.   
Just before Christmas,

If James’ warning in the first century about the tongue is to be taken seriously, how much more in the internet age should we heed the starkness of its warning that

the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity;
the tongue is set among our members
as that which defiles the entire body,
and sets on fire the course of our life,
and is set on fire by hell.
– James 3: 6

But, knowing and accepting the warnings of Scripture is only the beginning.  We must recognize and confess our own sinful nature as also described in Scripture; then, surrender to the lordship of Christ and profess faith in His atoning death for us.  In marvelous return, God will fill us with His Holy Spirit Who will then help us to gain victory over the “deeds of the flesh” which are listed in Galatians  5: 19-21 including “…impurity [and] outbursts of anger….”  In place of these evil deeds, the Spirit produces fruit of righteousness including “…love, joy, peace, patience…self control…” (Galatians 5: 22-23).

If the above teaching of Scripture sounds simple, it is not.  God knows as does the disciplined Christian that the pursuit of self-control and control of the tongue is a continual progression of climbing and falling, and sinning and confessing (I John 1: 9).  In regard to this difficulty, James adds the following:

For we all stumble in many ways.
If anyone does not stumble in what he says,
he is a perfect man,
able to bridle the whole body as well.
– James 3: 2

James issues another stark warning (James 3: 1) out of his recognition that Christian maturity requires time and patience to develop:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren,
knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment

Because the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity…and is set on fire by hell the Spirit emphasizes through James that the pulpit, platform, and microphone are not to be given to those who cannot control their tongue; nor should undisciplined believers undertake such responsibility.   God is not honored by leaders in church or school who do not demonstrate self-control and the other fruit of the Spirit.  The body of Christ in a church setting or in an educational institution is taught and edified when the preacher or teacher is a godly “professor” of his or her faith.   A “professor” is one whose behavior matches his or her words; one who professes by both lips and life.

God’s plan is that the body of Christ on Earth will be the shining example, or what the Puritans called “a shining city on a hill” for the world to see and be drawn to Christ themselves.  But, as we’ve noted above, the victory is only assured by a daily disciplined effort in which we submit to God’s authority, confess or sins, and pursue His peace and joy.  If we offend another person or persons, God makes a provision that we should take seriously:

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar,
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your offering there before the altar and go;
first be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and present your offering
.  – Matthew 5: 22-23

This formula for reconciliation applies to both the offended and the one offending.  However, this formula is also a test of our humility.  The proud person refuses to “leave the altar” or his or her religious activity, but waits for another person to come to them.  However, many of us can testify that obeying this biblical teaching will surely end days or even years of grief and separation from God and from our neighbor.  Forgiveness and reconciliation brings the peace and joy God intends for us.

Peace on Earth at Christmas or at any time of the year will not come by surrendering our guns or knives. Nor can we blame our tongues, cell phones, or social media, each of which can be useful tools to build up one another.  Rather, we must address the source of our quarrels and strife – a prideful heart that ought to submit to the authority and work of God’s Spirit.  May God help us to be peacemakers and builders as we surrender our hearts to Him so that

out of the good treasure of our heart
we can bring forth what is good…
our mouth speaks from that which fills our hearts.
 – Luke 6: 45