Seasoned Speech

Addressing President Trump’s history of crude comments about women, former Vice President Joe Biden recently stated that he would have “beat the hell out of” the President had he and Mr. Trump attended high school together. Mr. Trump has fired back that Biden “would go down fast and hard, crying all the way” were the two to scuffle.

This is statesmanship in America in 2018.

Proverbs 15:1-2 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” Each of us has spoken both wisdom and folly. Rashness overtakes every kind mouth sometimes, while even the worst of us occasionally stumbles upon a soft answer. I regularly pray that my words would more often represent wisdom and less often represent the fool who lives just below the surface.

I am reminded that Jesus said in Matthew 12:34-35: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”

If it is true that my words reflect my heart, then my heart has a long way to go, and I rest in the knowledge that Jesus is in the business of transforming hearts. Even as the Prophet Ezekiel foretold, Jesus has removed “the heart of stone” and has given “a heart of flesh.” Moreover, Christ has promised that “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven” to those who seek Him in faith. Forgiveness is a good thing.

But I also am increasingly aware that if I desire for American political and social rhetoric to improve, I ought to begin with myself. If society collectively cringes when septuagenarian politicians sling around the empty bravado of locker room bullies, how much more so when Christians speak this way?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.”

Religious Freedom (from consequences)

Christians in America fear the loss of religious freedom.

But to be more precise, we fear the loss of easy faith. Right now we follow Jesus without fear of suffering unpleasant consequences.

Let me explain.

Do Christians in North Korea have freedom to practice their faith? Yes. A Christian can walk into the street and begin preaching the Gospel. He is free to do so. He is not, however, free from the terrible consequences that would follow.

No government can take away freedom of religion. It can only impose consequences. The question every believer must ask is, “Will I bear the consequences for Jesus who first bore them for me?”

Now, I’m not suggesting that every Christian in North Korea rush into the street proclaiming Christ. To do so would be to engage in a form of suicide by preaching. Wisdom dictates that believers in such circumstances preach the faith quietly, in private homes with curtains drawn, carefully teaching the next generation. May God one day grant believers in North Korea the ability to proclaim Christ from the rooftops without fearing the consequences of an anti-Christian regime!

Not unlike our persecuted brothers elsewhere, American Christians enjoy the freedom to follow Jesus. Unlike our persecuted brothers, our only hindrance to proclaiming Christ is our willingness to bear the relatively mild consequences of social disapproval.

We have the freedom. We also have—for the time being—freedom from significant consequences.

Only our fear of losing the latter can prevent us from using the former.

A Poor Trade

Psalm 146:3-5 cautions:

Put not your trust in princes,                                                                                                              in a son of man in whom there is no salvation.                                                                    When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;                                                                          on that very day his plans perish.                                                                                              Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,                                                                                  whose hope is in the Lord his God.

After reading yet another article in which an evangelical celebrity urged Christians to secure the Kingdom of God on earth by voting Republican—no, he didn’t say it that bluntly—I think we need to amend Psalm 146, producing the American Evangelical Republican Version of the Bible. It goes like this:

Put not your trust in Democratic princes,                                                                                       in a socially liberal son of man, in whom there is no economic salvation.               When his presidency ends, he returns to Chicago;                                                                       on that very day his policies perish, but his judicial appointments endure.                Blessed is he whose help is the God of Republicans,                                                                        whose hope is in the Lord his God’s preferred political candidates.

Is this really the hope of the Bible? Is this what the Church is called to offer to the world? Political promises and fear-based pleas to vote for particular candidates? The advance of the Church on earth through legislation?

What a poor trade.

Jesus is building His Church. Our power lies in the faithful use of the Word, Sacraments, and prayer, not in the voting booth.

In Defense of Work

Work is good.

It is often toilsome, sometimes frustrating, and rarely without hiccups, but it is also good.

God created mankind to work. He gave Adam a garden to tend, and a Creation over which to exercise dominion. You know the rest of the story.

Adam sinned and God promised that Adam’s labor would become difficult. The earth produced thorns and thistles, and only by the sweat of his brow did Adam eat its fruits.

But work is still good.

When God gave His people the Ten Commandments, He said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” Often we skip those words, rushing directly for the prohibition that follows. But God commanded His people to work six days each week.

Why? Work is good.

Americans—Christians included—have grown accustomed to working five days a week. We also expect to retire sometime in our 60s in order to spend the rest of our lives doing nothing useful whatsoever.

“Six days you shall labor.” That command comes with no expiration date.

If you’re a Christian, work. Have a reason to get out of bed. It need not be full time employment. You can still “retire.” But work. Part-time. Volunteer. Make sure someone counts on you to be there. Do something.

When a person stops working some part of him withers, for men were created to work. Idleness lessens our humanity.

When we work, we image our God who worked. Our labor glorifies Him. Yet many people work only in order to retire. Their labor represents little more than a means to escape from work. But the Christian must labor as a means to glorify the Lord.

Paul commands in Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

All legitimate work is therefore dignified work. It is Christ-honoring work. It is spiritual work. It contributes to the Kingdom that cannot be shaken.

Work is good, so seek to glorify the Lord in your work.

And then enter your rest.