6. Living by Law

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 6 :  Living by Law

Acts  1:20    “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms…..

As we ponder on the behaviour of those we find in the book of Acts, we find ourselves considering things which, we noted in the previous meditation require us to walk a careful tightrope walk, because on one side there is almost truth and on the other side, if we are not careful, we go to another extreme of almost truth.

This is especially so in our reflections on Peter’s actions here in Acts 1. We considered in the previous meditation that this pre-Pentecost action differed from that seen later on in Antioch where the anointed and fully recognised prophets clearly heard from the Lord, and differed from Acts 12 where the church did not seek to replace James when he was killed by Herod. But there is another aspect of his actions that bears considering.

It is his reference to what we call the Old Testament Scriptures to justify what he thinks and feels. This is an especially difficult consideration because so much of our time we spend (rightly) teaching new Christians to read their Bibles and base their lives on the teaching found there, and especially that found in the New Testament. So am I suddenly going to reverse that teaching? Definitely not! However it does need to come with a warning. We have already implied this warning in our heading of this meditation: Living by Law.

Now if we may summarise the Christian’s position in respect of the Law briefly. The Ten Commandments still apply as general law applicable to any society. The remainder of the Law given at Sinai and afterwards was specifically for Israel as a nation living under God and much of it simply does not apply in modern largely, non-agricultural communities. The law of sacrifices has been fulfilled in Christ and, as there is no Temple today, could not be followed anyway. All that said, we have much teaching in the New Testament which is there to guide us and which should be followed by us. Yet there is a bigger issue. Living by Law is living by rules and means that we can, in fact, live without any reference to God (apart from His written word).

The bigger issue is that we are first and foremost called to live out a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and that means direct communication, which from His side means leading and guiding by the Spirit and, from our side, means listening and obedience.  Now, yes, we have the Scriptures and we are to follow that teaching and therefore we do not need to constantly ask God what we should be doing and, in fact, often modern Christians spend much time asking God for guidance when the Scriptures are quite clear and are there to be followed.

Often He doesn’t want to hear us asking, He wants our obedience. It is that simple sometimes. But often it isn’t. We may find ourselves in difficulties when, like Peter, we pick out verses to confirm what we already have concluded in our minds. (That may be too unkind on Peter, forgive me if I’m wrong.) But there is that danger, the danger that we choose verses to back up what we want.

So how do we overcome this? Our starting point must be to come to a place where we are open to God’s will – whichever way it takes us. Second, we pray and ask the Lord to guide us into truth, into what His will is for us, and we seek to keep an open heart as to what that means. Third, we keep alert to His voice speaking to us. Now there is a great deal of difference between us scanning through the Bible looking for a verse to justify our desires, and reading the Bible and suddenly finding a verse leaping out at us. God does indeed speak to us in such a way sometimes.

Indeed I have even heard the Lord misquote Scripture to catch my attention. Many years ago we were contemplating taking a team to another part of the country to do two week’s evangelism and all holiday accommodation in that place was completely taken. Yet one day when I was walking to work in the City, I found this ‘verse’ drop into my mind from nowhere: “In my father’s house are many rooms. I have prepared a place for you.” Apparently being Scripture I particularly noted this thought and considered it was coming from the Lord. Being a young Christian at the time I pointed out to the Lord that it was a wrong quote. The right quote was “I go to prepare a place for you.” There seemed to be a pause and back came, “I have said what I have said.” As I reflected on that, I realised he was saying that the situation there was all in hand. On the strength of that, we told the team what we were doing and two of us went down twenty four hours earlier to this place where the local Tourist Board had told us there was absolutely no accommodation and a half an hour before the team arrived we had the final bit of accommodation for fifteen people! It was amazing.

Now the key element of that testimony is that God spoke and we obeyed. It was a situation – and we often find ourselves in such things – where Scripture on its own could not help us. We might have gone through Scripture picking out verses about God’s provision but that would not have helped us and our team to move with confidence and without worry. When James writes If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” (Jas 1:5)  he recognises that there will be many situations where we need to have the ‘how to’ guidance from God.

I can look back on life now, from a perspective of knowing the Lord for over forty five years, and can see there have been a multitude of occasions where I (we) needed guidance and picking out Scriptures would have been inadequate. To end on a light note, you may have heard the old story, and so it can be a reminder, of the man who was seeking guidance of the Lord and stuck his finger in the Bible and it alighted on, So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Mt 27:5). He took his finger out and stuck it in another page and beneath his finger he read, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). Don’t ‘cherry pick’ verses and don’t use promise boxes or any other form of ‘guidance’ that is open to abuse.

Learn to be motivated by the Holy Spirit. If it is a significant guidance, check it with mature leaders and if it is a ‘life redirection’ word then it is likely to come from the Lord at least three times in different ways. He knows and understands that we need reassurance. Rest in His love and let Him lead, and don’t be afraid to check it out with mature leaders.

54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!

45. Words

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 45 :  Wisdom with Words

Eccles 5:2,3 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

If anyone has the temerity to say the Bible isn’t practical, they have obviously never read large parts of it. Solomon has just counselled listening in the presence of God and now, before he actually comes to the subject of vows that he has in his mind, he gives a general warning about the way we speak in God’s presence. It is very much a continuation from verse 1 where he counselled listening. If you listen you don’t speak!

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. An aspect or expression of sin, I believe, is stupidity, and a part of stupidity is thoughtlessness and therefore sometimes our rash statements before God as simply thoughtless and comes from remnants of the stupidity of sin left over in our lives from the past.  Probably the greatest example of a big mouth in the Bible is the apostle Peter. For example, remember the time when Jesus is explaining he will have to die, Peter launches out, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22) Or there was the time at the Last Supper when Jesus wanted to wash the feet of the disciples: “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” (Jn 13:8) You don’t say no to Jesus! He has a reason.

How easy it is to make surface or shallow commitments. It is one of the reasons that I am wary about commitment times at the end of a sermon. It is important to bring people to a place of decision but I wonder how often those decisions are shallow and the seed has fallen on ground that will not be long-term fruitful (See Mt 13:18 onwards).

Now having said this and having used Peter as an example, there is one instance where Peter’s rashness led him out into an experience no other human has ever had. It was in the midst of the wind on the lake and Jesus walked to them across the water and spoke to them. Observe Peter: “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Mt 14:28) Do you ever have those times when God turns up and you find yourself saying crazy things? Sometimes it enables us to step out in faith like Peter did but sometimes it is something we later rue and don’t follow through on. Solomon’s warnings hold true.

Solomon obviously had this sort of thing in mind when he was writing his proverbs: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more we speak the more likely we are to get it wrong!  But Solomon now gives another reason: “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” What does he mean? God is not human like us; His home is in heaven because He is the Lord and from there (implied) He sees all things and therefore He knows all things. So, you’d better be careful what you say because God sees and knows and knows the truth. To be on the safe side you’d do better to keep your words few (just like he says in Proverbs).

To conclude these particular thoughts, Solomon uses a comparison: As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.” First the comparison: dreams. Dreams, he says, naturally flow when we are worried. Similarly words naturally flow from a fool. Remember in this sort of writing, a fool is someone who is morally limited, and who lacks wisdom. Sit on a bus and listen to chattering conversations, go on Facebook and note the shallow chattering there, and go on chat rooms and see the multitude of words poured out there. I have given up writing in such places because I am aware that it is so easy to just pour out shallow words that really don’t touch the truth which is often far more complex than chat rooms allow. I used to write a weekly blog commenting upon the affairs of the world. I gave it up for two reasons. First, because it is so depressing commenting on the many negative things in the world and, second, because I came to realise that to make any meaningful comment that really touched on the truth meant that you had to cover so many points that you couldn’t do that with a limited length blog.

So Solomon’s warning comes to us: check out your speech – especially before God. Be careful not to just pour out meaningless words, words which we sometimes utter because we feel we will achieve something by them. Yet the truth is that they need to come out of the heart and need to be truthful, for that is what the Lord looks for.

29. Silence/Speaking

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 29 :  A Time for Silence or Speaking

Eccles 3:7 a time to be silent and a time to speak

I was at a barbecue, attended by about forty people I think, and I stood there at one point and looked around at the chattering that was going on. In some cases it was one to one, in other cases groups of three, four or five. One of the thing human beings do is talk – and talk a lot. Talking is the way we express relationship. It may be the very tentative opening words with a stranger, but even there we are seeing is some form of basic relationship can be formed, even for a few minutes. It may be the catching up on the news with someone you haven’t seen for a long time; you are re-establishing the relationship you have, distant though it often may be. With others it may be just the ordinary, every-day type of chatter, but talking goes on wherever there are relationships between human beings. We talk because we know things and we want others to know them as well. We talk because we don’t know things and we want to find out.

Today’s verse has an almost ominous feel to it. There are times when it is better to keep your mouth shut and times when you need to speak out. I think standing before God is often a time when it is best to keep quiet. I know that at the times in life when I have been most aware of the holy presence of God, I just wanted to keep quiet. Speaking words would have spoilt the sense of beauty and wonder that was there. When Isaiah saw the Lord his first response was an indication of the awareness of the sinfulness of his mouth: Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:5). I always like Ezekiel’s wisdom in saying the least possible when the Lord asked him if the valley of dry bones could live: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezek 37:3). Smart move, Ezekiel.

Solomon understood this as well:A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” (Prov 17:27). The more you know the more you realise how much you don’t know.  Elsewhere he said, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). Be careful, our words may either reveal what we’re like on the inside or they may lead us into sin by speaking wrongly.  James understood this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (Jas 1:19)

One of the dangers of being a Christian is that we so often forget these warnings and feel we have all the answers and so we impose those answers on all we come across. The trouble is that they may not be ready yet to receive them. Jesus taught, Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6)  I understand that to mean, don’t pour out wonderful things of God to those who mock and deride and just haven’t got open hearts. If someone walked up to you and said, “I’m a communist,” or “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness,” we would immediately think, “Why are they saying that? They must want to impose on me their viewpoint of life.” Yet that is how many Christians act and speak. Yes, we do have the most wonderful news the world can receive, but are they ready to receive it.

If you’re an evangelist you’ll just scatter the seed of the Gospel anyway and your grace can cope with the rejection of many. For most of us, with our next door neighbour or the person we work with, our call is first to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds,” (Mt 5:16) so that they will ask you about why you are like you are: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) but even then, But do this with gentleness and respect,” so you keep the door open for further conversation if they are not ready to go far now. Peter was obviously very much aware of this, perhaps because the Gospels so often record him opening his mouth rashly. Is this why he speaks to wives: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Somebody once said something like, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if you have to.”

For most of us, speaking out the Gospel is not so much a case of ‘when’ but ‘how’. We are always to be bearers of the truth, always to be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8) but it is knowing how to say it. A brash and arrogant speaking the truth simply creates hostility. That’s why Peter spoke of doing it with gentleness and respect. Perhaps this is another of those times when we need to shoot up an instant prayer, “Lord, please give me wisdom, show me what to say” (Jas 1:5). Jesus taught, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Lk 12:11,12). There is so much more that could be said about when to speak and when to remain silent, but we will have to rest with this for now.

31. Tamed Tongue

Meditations in James: 31 : Inability to Tame the Tongue

Jas 3:7,8   All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

There is often perceived in men or women a pride that says, “We are the peak of evolution and we can do anything. We can harness energy, use technology, bring health and longer life. We can manipulate atoms and genes and even create life. We are the lords of the universe.”  They may not say it in so many words, but those are the sentiments that the pride of man brings out.  In daily life, especially when we are young, we wake up in the morning feeling good, the sun is shining and everything is going well, and we feel invincible. And then we speak unwisely and harshly, and the world turns grey as the ugly truth is revealed: I can’t even control my tongue!

So far we have observed James’ descriptions of the tongue as he shows us that although it is small it can determine our path. He’s also pointed out that although it is small it has the power to wreak havoc and destruction. The warnings are clear: if only we would learn to harness our tongue we could use it to bless and build, encourage and energise, congratulate and create. But there is the problem and it is that which James focuses upon now; we can’t control it!  He will go on to suggest what needs to happen but for now he focuses on this terrible truth.

People use their minds to train themselves to be able to do great things. They discipline and stretch their physical abilities to be healthy and strong, but when it comes to focusing on harnessing something as small as the tongue, we find it is a different thing.  Singers can control their vocal cords. Ventriloquists can produce words without apparently moving the mouth, but when it comes to the words themselves and the emotions that are behind them, we seem so often completely unable to be in control. Words come out we wish we’d never said, feelings were expressed that cause hurt and upset, and once out cannot be put back in the box.  James makes us think about the natural world.  We can capture and train wild animals that seem so large and aggressive, but when it comes to something as small as the tongue, we are helpless it seems.  The tongue seems to have a life of its own at times and it seems impossible to tame it.

There are so many self-help books on the shelves of bookshops today, even books on how to say things nicely, but however many books we read, on a bad day we realise we are still not in control of this small part of our body which, as James says, seems so full of restless evil.  We can start the day out, full of good intentions.  We can make New Year resolutions, but it doesn’t take very long for a situation to arise where we find our mouth speaking out strongly and hurtfully.  If we had a hidden TV camera team filming us all day and every day for a month, how many of the words that were recorded would we be happy to be seen on the small screen?  In seeing it being replayed, how many times would we regret the words and wish either that we had said nothing or had said it differently?  Perhaps it takes a wider judging audience to face the truth about ourselves. That is what James is trying to do, to get us to think about our speech and face the truth about ourselves, because until we do that we will not see the need and if we don’t see the need we will not turn to the Lord for His help.

That’s what Scripture does so often: show us our need, show us our potential in God, so that we go to Him for His life changing power.  That is James’  aim, and that is why we continue to consider these things.  But focussing on two verses gives us a limited view. Yes, it helps us see our need but it doesn’t explain WHY and it doesn’t give us answers. For the ‘why’ of our tongues actions we have to go back again to what Jesus said about our mouths: For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34).  Yes, this is the truth.  The mouth reflects what is in the heart, what is there deep inside us. The heart is our state of mind and will. It is the innermost reach of our personality, the cause of what we think and feel. It is in many ways a mystery. Why do we have these inner inclinations, which sometimes conflict with what outwardly we’d like to be? Yes, when we think about it, we’d like to be cool, calm and collected, able to answer every unkind word from others with graciousness, able to respond to every hostile question with wisdom.  Yet, we find, so often it isn’t like that.  Why is that?  It is because our heart has not been changed.

At the centre of the New Testament teaching is the recognition that to be Christians we have to die to ourselves, we have to die to self.  The call is to put God first, then others next and ourselves last.  It sounds a good theory and when it works we find we are most blessed, but so often self pushes to the front.  The difficult truth is that the heart is only changed by difficulties. ‘Character’ is another expression of what the Bible refers to as the heart, the way we truly are.  Paul said, we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;” (Rom 5:3,4).  Our character is formed as we learn to endure in difficulties.  You’ll know how much the Lord has formed your character, how much He has moulded your heart, by the words that come out of your mouth when the circumstances are difficult and people are not being nice. At that point, your mouth will reveal what God has been able to do in you. Now there is a strange thing. It is only as He is able to do things in you, and that is determined by your willingness to let Him do it, and that is a matter of will. Don’t focus on the tongue. See it as a revealer of what you’re like inside, but having done that, ask the Lord to transform you on the inside. That’s what this is really all about.

29. Steered

Meditations in James: 29 : Steered by the Tongue

Jas 3:3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

We take life for granted. We don’t think about the things we do, because they are so natural. We get up in the morning. We get dressed, eat breakfast, go out for the day, come home, eat, rest and sleep – every day!  We have eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak, and we take them all for granted.  Take the mouth for example.  We may get up in the morning and so we groan about the day negatively.  We turn on breakfast TV, or breakfast radio, or read a morning paper, and grumble about the state of the world.  We complain about a bus or train being late, or about the weather.  We criticise people in the news and at work.  And we wonder why we feel so negative about life.  We speak thoughtlessly to someone and we hurt or upset them and a relationship is broken.  We speak hastily and the die is cast and a decision made that was unwise.  Our mouths play a large part in expressing what we feel, in determining what we feel, and in creating or breaking relationships with other people.  Oh yes, our tongue is a powerful bit of our body, and the wise person thinks about this.

James has been guiding us to think about our lives and has been challenging us about the nature of them as we live them out in the midst of the world that is so often hostile to us and to God. He’s talked about the link between faith and deeds, and he’s gone on to allude to spiritual maturity, something we should be aiming for.  Have you ever used Google Earth or some other satellite system that looks down on the earth? You see the earth from a distance and then you can zoom down and roads become visible and then, as you get nearer, buildings take shape, and then details can be seen and, if it was a real shot, even people seen.  We zoom in and more and more detail is seen.  That’s what James is now doing.  He is zooming in on our lives and focusing specifically on that all-important organ, our tongue!

He doesn’t go into immediate teaching about it; he paints pictures that make us think about it.  He speaks first about the bit in the mouth of a horse.  It’s a very obvious picture.  As the rider pulls on the reins the horse’s head is pulled round and its body follows the direction of the head.  The implication is that we go where our tongue takes us.  There is a sense that the tongue controls the whole body.  Yes, we know that the tongue speaks what is in the heart: out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45).  As we feel on the inside so we speak, but it is as we speak so our direction is set.  We speak and others hear what we say, and we are committed.  If we keep quiet, we are not committed; it is only as we speak is our path set.  What we say, we tend to do.

Then James gives another picture, that of a ship. Oh yes, he says, there may be big waves and strong winds, but it is the rudder of the ship that determines where it goes.  The rudder is so small in comparison to the rest of the ship, but it is still the part that determines the course of the boat.  The same implication is there.  Our course is determined by such a small part of us. Someone offers us as job.  We say, “Yes, I’ll take it.”  Our course is set by our tongue.  Someone chides us for wrong behaviour.  We lash back with our tongue defensively.  Unfortunately they were our manager, and our future hope of promotion has just gone.  Our course is set.  In a marriage, a row ensues and angry words create division.  No healing words are spoken and the rift gets bigger. A course is being set. It is our words that set our course. Think back over the past week or month and see if you can identify times when your words set the course of what was to follow.  Think about things that are yet to happen today or tomorrow and consider how your words will set the course of what is to follow.

James gives a strong warning to finish this verse: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What is boasting?  It is speaking out and making claims that are untrue, claims that we are bigger and better than is really true. The tiny tongue can say such silly things, but they are things that make other people think less of us; they are things that lead us further into self-deception. Boasting reveals pride and it reveals foolish thinking, but even worse, it leads us along a course that is damaging to us.

Before we go anywhere else with James in this consideration of the use of the tongue, can we realize how significant our words are? Can we realize what our words do? Can we see that they reveal the state of our hearts and the also commit us to the path ahead. We will, in the days ahead, be determining our paths, partly by what we will be saying. That needs thinking about!