Monday, January 16, 2006

Relationship between the Word and the tongue

This is my personal summary of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong's preaching on James 3:1-6 on 15 January 2006.

Previously, James talked about the relationship between faith and deeds. Abraham was made righteous before the Law was passed so he was definitely not made righteous by obeying the Law, which was given to Moses 430 years later. He was made righteous by faith expressed through his obedience to God. This tells us how important faith is. Faith is a positive response towards God which is produced by a right response towards God's promises. Therefore, the idea of being justified by the works of the law is an erroneous understanding which came up later.

However, as sinners we still continue to reason from wrong angle even when presented the correct theology. Now we think that since we are justified by faith and our works are not meritorious, we conclude that works are not important. This is the side effect of the Fall of men, which is called sinners' logic, that always reasons negatively. Since we are saved by grace and this grace is given by the God who is eternal and therefore we are predestined from eternity, we say that there is no need to preach the gospel. This is how the right orthodox teaching gets attacked by fallacious logic of sinners. As the doctrine of justification by faith alone releases people from the bondage of the works of the law and the fear of hell fire, people begin to ignore the importance of deeds. So often times the church commit sin that even the unbelievers outside do not dare to commit. This is a very scary situation.

Hence it is extremely important for us to ground a right understanding of God's Word so that we don't fall into erroneous understanding. James gives an important balance by showing us that true faith produces true deeds. The deeds here are the fruits of faith, not the cause of justification. The great mystery here is that true faith consists in itself obedience. Hence the last verse in chapter 2 says that faith without deeds is dead.

In chapter 3, we see another twist as James suddenly mentioned that not many of us should desire to become teachers as we would be judged more severely. This is in line with what Paul said to Timothy to know clearly his calling. Francis Bacon said a very important phrase that should be put up in every library, “A little knowledge is great danger.” How true this is! When we began to know just a little, we have the tendency to become proud and eager to teach. But often times, this results in us teaching the wrong thing and block people from knowing the Truth. This is the greatest problem with the charismatic churches. They hardly know God's Word clearly but are already preaching and leading people, and as a result, the pass a lot of wrong knowledge to others. The more crowd they draw, the greater their offence because the more people they mislead and draw away from the Truth. As the crowd comes to them, they cannot give them the Truth because they do not have it, so they give other things like warm relationships and other excitement to replace the Truth.

The Bible says not to presume to be teachers as we will be judged more. If we are not teaching the Truth from the holy pulpit, we are leading people astray. Some people emphasize works and throw away faith. Some emphasize faith and throw away works. With all these messed up doctrines people are misled. If we hear the wrong preaching of the Word and gets our faith rooted based on biased teaching, our understanding becomes not comprehensive and we will begin to emphasize a lot of minor things at the expanse of the more basic major things. This might attract a lot of people but we are not giving correct teaching. If we notice the phenomena of church movements, many a times, they emphasize one or a few things only, instead of things in totality. It is hard to teach in overall principles, but very easy to just emphasize one or a few things in isolation. It is easy and unusual, so the crowd is drawn. But the result is that after so many years, people still do not understand the most basic doctrines, and still only know that few isolated things.

Chapter 3 of James talks lengthily about our tongue. This is absolutely necessary. The Scriptures' content is very amazing in its organic relationship. Paul talked 13 chapters about faith and James talks 1 chapter about the deeds resultant from faith. The Scriptures talk about Truth in many chapters, and finally we see one chapter in the book of James that talks about our tongue, on how we should use our tongue to express God's Truth.

Preaching the wrong things is a greater sin than saying the wrong words. If we say wrong words, we might harm others in this life. But if we preach the wrong things, we might harm others in eternity.

The Scriptures say that if we can control our tongue we can control our whole body. If we can manage our speech, we manage our entire life. The Chinese says that disasters and illness come from the mouth. We will be ill when we eat the wrong thing and if we speak the wrong things, we hurt people's spirit. To the Chinese, in order to avoid this, the solution is to speak as little as you can. This is the approach many people take, i.e. to solve the problem in a passive way.

However, we should learn to solve problem in an active way. We need to learn so that we can speak but make little mistakes in speech. A person's preaching should come as a result of their own battles with the Lord. A good preaching is one who can speak a lot but make little mistakes, think in depth but share in simplicity, see widely but preach specifically. A person who can do this has profound understanding and is a great man. We see a relationship between the level of understanding with the ability to simplify his expressions. That's why we see that Jesus preaches in simpler language than Paul. The reason is not because Paul has more academic background but Jesus is unlearned.

God has given us a mouth to speak so it is not the right approach to solve the problem of speech by just shutting up. The questions for us to ask are: What are we talking about? What is the purpose of our speech? What is the result of our sharing? How do we control ourselves so that we don't say what we should not say and we speak boldly when we should?

If we speak when we should be quiet, we waste our time. If we keep quiet when we should speak, we waste opportunities. This requires a lot of wisdom.

A very important question to think about is: what is abundant life? Abundant life does not consist in our riches and possessions, for they can be lost and obsolete. Things that can be obsolete are not of great value.

What is abundant life then? It is the TRUTH dwelling in you, the understanding of God's Word. We need to absorb the Word of God as much as possible and let it come alive in us. Our real worth is measured in how much the Truth of God we have living in our hearts.

So on one hand we need to store up as much as possible God's Word inside us, and on the other hand we need to offer up our body as instrument for righteousness, particularly our tongue, because the Scriptures say if we can bridle our tongue we can control our whole body.

When the Truth is in us abundantly, it will come out of our mouth abundantly, and we will be blessings to many.


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