26. Wholesome Thinking

Meditations in 2 Peter : 26 :  Wholesome Thinking 

2 Pet  3:1,2    Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.  

In the previous meditation we reflected on the fact that this was Peter’s second reminder letter. Now we need to think some more on why he wrote it. This has come through clearly a number of times, especially in the early part of it, but the fact that he repeats it means he wants us to think about it even more. He didn’t write just because he thought it was a good idea; he wrote because he was aware that his time was limited and he had a burden to ensure that he had done everything possible to ensure that he left the early church with good foundations that would stand in the face of the various forms of opposition that was coming from the enemy. It was a time of great battle for the truth. Satan had failed in his attempts to halt or distract Jesus and the Great Work had been accomplished; there was no taking that back.  But he could try to lead the church astray so that they forgot the basic truths of what had happened and what it meant, and distort the way they saw it,  so they lived lives of struggle just like the rest of the world. Peter is going to do all he can to counter these things.

And so he says now that he has written both these letters first as reminder, and then as prompts to help us to have wholesome thinking. We’ve covered in an earlier meditation our need to be regularly reminded but now he says he wants to stimulate or prompt or stir us to have wholesome thinking. Whatever ‘wholesome thinking’ is, it doesn’t come automatically; we need to be stirred up to reach it. But isn’t this true of all learning – and the Christian faith, as we’ve noted previously, is one big learning curve – that we need stimulating to think. That’s what good teachers are doing constantly, trying to get their students to think for themselves – to think, to reason and to work things out. One of the enemy’s strategies is to get us to focus on the problems and stresses of life from a purely human and godless viewpoint.

So Peter says, I want to stir you to ‘wholesome thinking’. Now those two words are, of course, the words of translators trying to record best what the original meant. The Message version ducks the issue with, “to hold your minds in a state of undistracted attention,” which would suggest that distractions prevent wholesome thinking. J.B.Phillips did, we believe, a slightly better job with “minds uncontaminated by error”.  The NKJV simple speaks of “I stir up your pure minds”.

So ‘wholesome’ thinking is good thinking, healthy thinking, sound thinking, complete or full thinking. But then, thankfully, Peter gives us some help: I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.”   In other words, the sort of thinking that he has in mind is that which focuses on the very basics or foundational truths that he has already in this letter referred to – the revelation of Jesus Christ brought throughout the Old Testament by God’s prophets, spurred on by Him, the revelation of what had happened and who Jesus was, seen in the fulfilment of those prophecies, and attested to by the many witnesses who saw and heard Jesus and so who were also able to pass on his words.

It is the same flow, the same unity, that we have observed previously  but being reiterated by Peter to ensure we take it in – God’s will declared by His prophets, God’s will fulfilled through His Son, God’s will attested to by the apostles and God’s will now passed down to us through His written word.

When we focus on and hold on to, and meditate on these truths and live them out in daily practice, then we may be described as having a ‘wholesome mind’. It is a mind that holds the truths conveyed by God, and it is a mind committed to those truths. It is also a mind that is sufficiently clear about those truths and understands the importance of those truths, that it will also be committed to passing them on to the next generation.

We may also add this sort of mind filters everything in the world through the truth thus received that we have been describing. When we hold the Bible up and let it shine on modern life, it will reveal the failures and foolishness of much modern life. It will also show us the way ahead, the way to live out our lives in accord with God’s design. When we allow it to do that, it will transform us and the world around us as we act as salt and light. THAT is why Peter keeps on repeating these same things in different ways; it is because he knows the potential of the truth to change the world, as long as we hang on to it and live it out! May it be so!

30. Tongue Burnt

Meditations in James: 30 : Burnt by the Tongue

Jas 3:5,6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

There are two sorts of TV programme that don’t excite me. One is the morning TV where there is a studio full of people talking about a contentious part of life.  The other is so-called soap operas.  Imagine both of them without any sound.  First of all imagine the contentious couples debate if they, and the other participants, were dumb.  Nobody would watch it, would they, because it is the angry words spoken that stir people’s interests.  Imagine soap operas as real life dramas and imagine again the people being dumb.  Most of the ‘difficult situations’, that go to make up the interest of these ongoing television fillers, are what they are because of what the various people say.

Oh yes, the tongue is the instrument that has this devastating potential for causing upset and upheaval. Having just written about how the tongue guides our life, James now goes on to warn us of the tremendous power of the tongue.  Solomon was aware of this when he wrote Proverbs: With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor (Prov 11:9) andThrough the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Prov 11:11) and A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Prov 18:6) and A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28).  Note the things in that short list that the tongue is capable of doing: destroying a neighbour (presumably by slander), destroying a city (presumably by lies, deceit, and generally leading into unrighteous business deals), personal strife (probably by rudeness and verbal attack which invites retribution), and general hurt and ruin by harshness and flattery which deceives.

If you are a watcher of these “sort out the problems” morning TV programmes or of soap operas, next time think about what all the people are saying.  Observe where there are words that are attacking, words that are demeaning, words that are violent, and think how different the situation would be if the exact opposite sort of words were spoken instead.  James says, Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark and so watch and see how a few words can ignite a situation and cause hostility and upset and division and hurt and anger and….. the list goes on!  In families there are words that should never be spoken: “I hate you!” or “I wish I’d never been born!” or “You’re ugly” or “You’re stupid!”  Each one of these is a small spark that has devastating effects.  Once said they cannot be withdrawn and they set a fire of passion blazing which is not easily put out.

But James pushes it further.  He says, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. That sounds awful!  Why is he using the analogy of a fire?  Because a fire is something out of control and capable of spreading destruction.  But why does he say that this fire is a world of evil among the parts of the body? Well we sometimes speak about how we ‘compartmentalise’ our lives, and he’s saying imagine our bodies like different compartments.  If you imagine the tongue as one ‘department’ in the running of your life, it seems that in so many people it is a department that is evil.  It may be the expression of the heart, but it is the visible, or rather audible expression of evil.  The mouth is the propaganda machine of the human body, that is able to reach out and influence or harm others by the words that come out.  It is seen in many people as evil, speaking out hurtful, harmful words.

But he goes on, It corrupts the whole person. If you corrupt something you spoil or mar it, you taint it or pollute it.   Speaking out words is very influential, and tragically most of us don’t realise this, so that when we put something into words it’s like it strengthens something in us.  While it only remains a thought, it is fairly powerless, but once we speak it out, it seems like it has the effect of spreading that negative right through us, so it is something that becomes more established in us.  If our lives were like a glass of clear water, when we speak negative, unkind, hostile, impure, unrighteous words, it is like black ink is being dripped into that clear water and it is polluted and no longer clear.  The words have the ability to change the life.  The heart was wrong, but the words established that wrong in a deeper, firmer way.

But James then piles on further pictures: It …sets the whole course of his life on fire. If the tongue is a fire, then the words are like flaming pieces that soar up into the air and where they land they spread the fire. As we’ve just suggested, when the words are spoken they affect the rest of the life. We used the analogy of clear water; James uses the analogy of fire.

Then he finishes with a strange expression: and is itself set on fire by hell. Can I use an analogy that I use often, that of anger? A person may use anger to get their own way, but that is unrighteous. Now if a person uses unrighteous anger regularly, then they open themselves up to Satan’s influence and he can press in on that person so that their anger flares up and is completely uncontrollable. Now the same thing is true of the tongue. Some people use the tongue to put down others, as a means of having influence over them, but this is unrighteous.  So what happens is that when they do this they make themselves vulnerable to Satan (and hell is just shorthand for ‘the powers of darkness and all that they bring’) and so Satan takes the fire (emotional words) that they have used, and blows on it so they become completely out of control.  What this person finds is that no longer can they control what they say; they are motivated or driven by these emotions which are beyond their control, and the fire burns and burns and burns until the person is destroyed. Did you realise the terrible power that is there in the use of the tongue and the forces of destruction that can be released by it?  Well think about these things.