Pondering Principles are the reflections of a United Methodist pastor on the Social Principles of the UMC. Check out the audio below to hear my thoughts on what United Methodists believe about science and technology. Leave a comment down below if you want more like this!
Use Words That Grow, Not Decay
“Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29)
As a team of pastors and I were going through these passages in preparation for the sermon series these idea ended up in, it became immediately clear that some people might object to me discussing this particular passage. I swear and I’m not afraid to admit it.
“But Pastor Shane, Paul says not to swear!” Sorry, but no that’s not what he’s saying. Not exactly. Let me try to explain the subtly of what’s going on in this passage.
Paul’s concern is that, just like lying and taking advantage of people, Christians in Ephesus are using things like slander, gossip, backbiting, and maybe even swear words to hurt people. They are tearing apart the body by doing damage with their words. Those words are being directed at people. Here, we see proof that Christians have weaponized words since the beginning. Paul is telling them not to do that.
Honestly, its less about the words than it is about the intent of the words used. I don’t ever have to utter one socially unacceptable swear word to tear a person down. I would much rather hear my 5-year old say the queen mother of dirty words – the F— word – than to ever hear him call a person ugly. Saying the F word isn’t a weapon unless it is directed at someone but saying someone is ugly whether to their face or behind their back only has one purpose…to tear that person down.
“Instead, only offer fresh words that build others up when they need it most.”
Whatever the actual words we use, Paul’s point here that the heart behind them should be to build others up. Make them feel better, help them grow, reveal truth to them, express love to them, console in times of weariness, put their needs first, and speak softly and kindly to them.
We cannot possibly trust each other if we are afraid that the words of our closest allies will be used as weapons to destroy us.
Paul’s admonition against thievery is actually a position against taking advantage of each other. He says thieves should work honestly not because it’s morally good. He tells them to work so that they can share what they have with others who are in need.
This position carries with it three assumptions:
- Some people are taking things they do not need,
- Some people need things they cannot obtain on their own
- Those who have should share with those who do not.
The heart of taking advantage of people is one of arrogance. When we take advantage of others we assume a couple of other things:
- We are better than them.
- We deserve what we have and they do not.
- Dishonesty is a valid means of getting what we want.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking, “I don’t steal. I’m a basically honest person. I don’t take advantage of others.” When was the last time you browsed Facebook during work when you weren’t on a break? Or stood around talking when we were obligated to do something else?
Let me put it in a different way that might irritate both sides of the political spectrum. The people who do not share are just as bad as the people who take what they do not need and have not earned honestly. That is why the Rich Vs Poor debate is not the one we should be having. It’s not Bernie Sanders vs Ron Paul (two very rich men by the way). The real debate is between the rich who have earned it honestly and justly VS those who have earned it through exploitation and fraud.
Paul assumes that Christians who have earned justly will give to those in need while Christians who do not are the thieves taking what they have not honestly earned and keeping what they do not need.
Paul’s criticism isn’t against having money. His criticism is against what we do with it when we have it and how we choose to obtain it. Paul is saying that Christians are not to get what they want by taking advantage of others nor are we to take what we do not need.
At its heart, Paul’s admonition against stealing is about trust. We cannot possibly trust each other if we know that others only see us only as means to their own ends and getting what they want.
Ok. Paul might say, ” When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin” (Ephesians 4:26). But I needed to get your attention.
I had an anger management problem when I was younger. Some people might even say I still do, but that’s because they didn’t know me back then. Oh, I still get angry. That part has not gone away, nor will it because anger is a natural human emotion. No, what has changed, and continues to improve as time goes on, is the way I deal with my anger. What has changed is the way I express myself when I’m angry.
Paul doesn’t say don’t get any here. Heck, even Jesus got angry when he threw the money changers out of the temple in what I like to call his Temple Tantrum. Like I said, anger is normal. It’s what we do with our anger that concerns Paul most, and it should concern us as well.
So, what does sinning in anger look like? It looks like retaliation, vengeance, violence, lying, deception, revenge. Reducing other people into objects of received aggression is what sinning in anger looks like. It means getting angry and hurting others.
Just like honesty and truth telling must be couched in love, so too must be our anger. If we are humble, gentle, patient and tolerant, then our response when we get angry will not be retaliation.
We will get angry and wait before we speak (patience). While we wait, we will remember that we are angry at another human being with feelings (humility). While we wait, we might realize that the reason for our anger is misplaced or overblown and that what seems so rage-worthy is really the result of our intolerance toward something we are not used to (tolerance). By the time we get around to speaking, we are in a much better position to show gentleness. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak against the things that make us angry. It simply means that we do not allow our anger to cause us to stop loving the person who makes us angry. Not showing love is the greatest sin anger can cause us to commit.
Speaking should be the last thing we do when we are angry and waiting should be the first thing. We are going to make each other angry. That is a guarantee. We cannot possibly trust each other if we hurt each other when we do.
Proverbs 2:7 (The VOICE)
He has stored up the essentials of sound wisdom for those who do right;
He acts as a shield for those who value integrity.
I like the subtle assumption that if we do what is right, then we essentially will do what is wise. The “stores” of “sound wisdom” will be tapped into by those do what is right. And what is right? A life lived with integrity. Being the same behind closed doors as we are in front of others. Being whole and undivided in purpose, position, and practice.
Why would God need to act as a shield for those who value integrity? Because when you’re the same person at all times and in all places, you become easier to manipulate. You can become predictable. You become a target. It is the downside to being open and honest rather than scheming and deceitful. It is also the thing that will cause some to flock to you and some to run from you.
I do, however, wonder how true it is that God protects those with integrity. I mean, Jesus seems like the case study of someone who got jacked up particularly because he lived with integrity and purpose that went against the powers that be. At least in a physical, earthly sense it seems as though God’s protection was a bit lacking. The author of Proverbs could not have known this though. Perhaps it is a shout out to having survived the Babylonian Exile as a distinct people. They made it through relatively in one piece with their identity as Jews in tact. When seen through that lens, it is easier to see God shielding them in that way.
Be true to God and yourself. Be open and honest about who you are and then live that life. Some will love you. Some will hate you. That’s okay. I write this letter to you having just received a hand-written letter of my own from someone I do not know. The letter told me that I am going against “God’s Holy Word” because I preach and teach Jesus’ inclusive love and compassion for all. If that takes me against the “Word” as they know it, then that’s alright with me. At least I have lived a life that is in line with the words I speak. Love your lives with integrity and you will tap into God’s wisdom.
If we are going to build the Body of Christ and be gentle, humble, patient, and tolerant, then we need recognize the behaviors we easily do that keep us from doing that, namely lying, allowing our anger to cause us to treat each other poorly (sin), using words to tear down rather than build up.
Paul lays out a list of dos and don’ts because he recognized that all of these have a huge impact of the health of the body. You can read about why any of this is important here.
Be Honest. Stop Lying.
Paul puts it “put away your lies and speak the truth to one another BECAUSE WE ARE ALL PART OF ONE ANOTHER.” What he is essentially saying is that when you lie or are deceitful toward others, you are really lying to yourself.
You might be sitting there thinking you don’t lie. Stop lying! If you’ve ever kept the truth from someone, you’ve lied. Omission of the truth in a situation where it would have a consequence either way is the same as lying.
Now, don’t hear me saying that you’ve now got a license to go around being jerks to each other in the name of “telling the truth.” Remember, telling the truth to each other needs to be tempered with being humble, gentle, patient and tolerant. In other words, you don’t have to say something just because you think it. This is “speaking the truth in love” as Paul puts it earlier. I’m pretty sure I just heard a collective cackle from everyone who has ever met me. Am I seriously telling you not to saying something just because it comes into your brain? Yes, I am. I am telling me too.
We cannot possibly trust each other if we cannot be honest with one another. We cannot build trust with people when we are building cases against them. We cannot build each other up when we are busy figuring out how to undercut trust through deceit.
I came across this article on a Facebook page I follow. As a pastor having the job of ministering to people of all viewpoints, I can see why being lukewarm can be an inherent danger of the job. This list, while written from certain point of view, is quite workable for all of us who lead ministry. It might also help our followers understand some of the complexities of leading during this time.
Read the article and let me know what you think!
Previously, I talked about Bodybuilding as a team sport. I talked about the team (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers, teammates). I started to talk about the way the team interacts by being humble, gentle, patient, and tolerant of each other.
Today, I’m going to start talking about one of the most important elements of a team: Trust.
I mentioned last time the different people who work together to make the individual bodybuilder successful. One of the MOST important people on the bodybuilder’ team is called the spotter, and this is usually a trainer or another bodybuilder.
The Spotter in weight training is the person who supports another person during a particular exercise with an emphasis on allowing the lifter to lift or push more than they could normally do safely. Correct spotting involves knowing when to intervene and assist with a lift, and encouraging a training partner to push beyond the point in which they would normally ‘rack’ the weight (return it to its stationary position).
The Spotter is the person who supports their partner and pushes them to do more than they think they can. Lifters need to know that the spotter is paying attention, is strong enough to actually help, cares enough about their well-being to give their all. Bodybuilders need to know that they can trust their spotters.
However, having a spotter is not enough, just like having people in your church is not enough. Those people need to trust each other.
I have seen multiple YouTube videos where people had spotters that were completely useless. One bench presser was lifting FAR more than he could handle. His spotter helped him lift the bar off of the rack…and then just let go. The weights came crashing down on the poor lifter. I saw another one where the weights fell onto the lifter and the spotter was too weak to help get it off. Again, that lifter learned the importance of a trustworthy partner.
Did you know that the majority of bench press deaths occur because someone tried to lift without a spotter? That’s how important having a person you can trust on your team is. It’s literally life and death.
The point of all of this is to say: Bad things will happen if we try to build the body alone. Bad things will also happen when we cannot trust the people who are working with us. Just like in bodybuilding, trying to do all the heavy lifting of ministry without a trusted partner can lead to some very serious consequences.
What does any of this matter? I’m hammering home the point of trusting each other because if we are going to build the Body of Christ and be gentle, humble, patient, and tolerant, then we need to recognize the behaviors we easily do that keep us from doing that, namely lying, allowing our anger to cause us to treat each other poorly (sin), using words to tear down rather than build up.
Ephesians lays out a list of dos and don’ts because the author recognized that all of these have a huge impact on the health of the body. In my next post, I will begin discussing them. I will start with lying.
Uh-Oh, here we go talking about climate change again. It’s a short paragraph though. Don’t worry. Read the section of the UMC Social Principles on Global Climate Stewardship here.
I already wrote about our disregard for creation. This is reaffirmed at the outset of this paragraph. The other part of this section that got me was this:
The adverse impacts of global climate change disproportionately affect individuals and nations least responsible for the emissions.Social Principles – Global Climate Stewardship
You catch that? The people least responsible for fucking this up are the ones who are paying the highest price for it. That truth is rampant in so many more ways than just climate change, especially in our country.
What families lose the most when a war starts? Not the families of the ones who started it that’s for sure. What people are most affected by our modern day slavery – excuse me our prison system? Certainly not the ones who created an implemented the privatized incarceration farms. And here we see the power structures shitting on people who cannot fight back. The problem is that, eventually, everyone is going to pay a high price for hurting the planet. It is the price that will be paid for caring more about convenience than for people, for progress than for relationships.
The Eternal is ready to share His wisdom with us,