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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Godly Speech--Part I "No Corrupting Talk"

Words are very important to me. My favorite things to do are reading, writing, and having meaningful conversations with people. In my recent reading of the book of Proverbs, I was struck by how much Proverbs has to say about our communication---our listening and speaking.
A verse that I have had sitting on my desk at work for months is:

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (ESV)

I really like how the NIV says it as well:

Ephesians 4: 29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I want to look at this verse in a series of blog posts. I want to start with the question: What is “unwholesome” or “corrupting” talk? Sometimes the first thing people tend to think of when we hear the term “unwholesome” talk is swearing. Reducing it to that misses the point of this verse--which is ACTIVELY LOVING those around us with our speech. We are to speak in such away that builds others up and that benefits them. When we speak in an unwholesome or corrupting way, we tear others down and we harm them.

Speech that tears down does not acknowledge and reflect the truth of what God tells us in His Word about what is good and pure. Speech that tears down is not speech that is humbly spoken out of sacrificial love that benefits others. To the contrary, speech that is “unwholesome” and “corrupting” and that tears others down reflects the wickedness of our hearts apart from the redeeming work of Christ.

Romans 1 discusses some of the ways this wickedness manifests in our fallen hearts:

Romans 1:29-32 “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
It is interesting to me how this list of wickedness from Romans 1 can manifest in our speech. Here are some examples:

• Instead of acknowledging God’s truth from His Word, we use our speech to call what is evil “good”. We do the same when we call what is good “evil”. In both instances, we speak from a place of being wise in our own eyes (i.e. what sounds or feels good to us) rather than heeding what God shows us to be true in His Word. Sometimes we do this because we proudly think we know best or because we are showing off. Other times we do this because we hate what God is calling us to or we are deceived, and we only want to justify our pursuit of our own sinful desires. Still other times we do this because we are too lazy to humbly come to God for wisdom in prayer and study of His Word.

• We speak in ways that do not acknowledge the truth of the grace of God for us and others. We condemn, we put down, and we cultivate despair.
• We use our words as weapons in ways that are intended to hurt others. Sometimes we do this because we are envious or covetous of others and we want to degrade them and exalt ourselves. Sometimes we do this because we have been sinned against and we feel justified in using our words to hurt or using our words in careless ways without regard to whether they will hurt others. Sometimes we use our words as weapons to punish others for what they have done to us and we do not trust the justice of our God or grasp the significance of His mercy and grace to us. Sometimes we use our words as weapons in unintended ways because we do not exercise self control or discretion. And sometimes we use our words as weapons out of cruelty and ruthlessness simply because we can.

• We use our speech to attract the praise of men in our proud desire to be worshipped.

• We use our speech to disrespect or to rebel against the authority structures that God has given us. We are all called to submit to someone, and we do not necessarily like that. We want to be our own authority, so we undermine the authority of those in leadership over us with our tongues—either directly to their face or indirectly behind their backs. We do this in ways that are overt and in ways that are passively aggressive.

• We use our tongue in thoughtless, foolish, and careless ways—not giving thought to what is true or to what can harm those who listen. We speak without discretion and self control, not giving thought to the appropriateness, truth or effect of our words. We are particularly vulnerable to this when we are bored and idle. See 1 Timothy 5:13

• We use our tongue in ways that are manipulative and calculated to bring about our own desires and the evil intentions of heart—whether we are aware of our intentions or not.

• We use our speech to deceive and lie when it suits our purposes. Also, instead of confessing and repenting of the sin that lurks in our heart, we speak in ways that are insincere and that reflect our fear of man instead of our fear of God.

• We use our tongue to deliberately incite a reaction, to create drama, or to inflame conflict or we use our tongue carelessly in ways that will produce in drama or conflict.

• We listen to and speak unsavory things about a third party when they are not present for our own entertainment and the entertainment of others. Sometimes these unsavory details are true, or untrue, or half true. Sometimes we “share” or “listen” under the guise of seeking or offering prayer or advice, and yet we fail to exercise discretion in deciding whom we chose to confide or in deciding how and how much divulge, and sometimes we have no real intention to listen to godly counsel in the matter anyway. We gossip, we slander, and we listen to gossip and slander. Again, we are vulnerable to these forms of “entertainment” particularly when our hands are idle and not occupied with the work to which God has called us. See 1 Timothy 5:13

Notice that all of these motives of our speech are about serving our own interests and not about serving the interests of others!!

Here are some more helpful Scriptures on what is ”unwholesome” speech:

Psalm 52:1-4


“Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
2 Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.


3 You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right.
4 You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.”


Psalm 64:2-4
“Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the throng of evildoers,
3 who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
4 shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.


Proverbs 6:23-24
“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
24 to preserve you from the evil woman,
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. “


Proverbs 10: 17-21
“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
18 The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.
19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
21 The lips of the righteous feed many,
but fools die for lack of sense.”


Proverbs 12:18-19
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
19 Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”


Proverbs 13:12-13


“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
13 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”

Proverbs 15:1-2
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”


Proverbs 18:2
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.”


Proverbs 18:6-8
“A fool's lips walk into a fight,
and his mouth invites a beating.
7 A fool's mouth is his ruin,
and his lips are a snare to his soul.
8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.”


Proverbs 18:12-14
“Before destruction a man's heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.
13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.
14 A man's spirit will endure sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?”


Proverbs 20
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
20 If one curses his father or his mother,
his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.”


Jeremiah 9:3-9
"They bend their tongue like a bow;
falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
and they do not know me, declares the LORD.
4 Let everyone beware of his neighbor,
and put no trust in any brother,
for every brother is a deceiver,
and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
5 Everyone deceives his neighbor,
and no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongue to speak lies;
they weary themselves committing iniquity.
6 Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit,
they refuse to know me, declares the LORD.
7 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts:
“Behold, I will refine them and test them,
for what else can I do, because of my people?
8 Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
it speaks deceitfully;
with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor,
but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.
9 Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this?"


2 Corinthians12:19-21 “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your up building, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.”


Ephesians 4:31 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”


Colossians 3:5-10 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”


1 Timothy 5:13 “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.”


1 Timothy 6:2-5 “Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”


2 Timothy 3:1-7 “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

Next time, I’d like to look at what it means to “build others up” or “benefit those who listen” in ways that “fit the occasion” or coincide with the needs of others.

Heavenly Father, Thank you that you are a God who speaks to us and that there is Awesome power in your Word. Help us to listen. Help us to learn from your example, Jesus, of redeemed speech. Transform our hearts, because without you, we default to the sinful motives like the ones listed in Romans 1. We humbly come before you knowing that we need you in every way, and asking you to fill us with love for you and others that flows out of us by the Spirit in our thoughts, speech, and actions. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Biblical Womahood


I am meditating on these Scriptures, particularly on what they say about what a godly woman should and should not look like:

Titus 2
2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.


11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

1 Timothy 5

5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.


3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband. 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden."

Biblical Teaching Regarding Judging Others


I read the following helpful excerpt from John Piper's book, "What Jesus Demands from the World" on the Monergism site today: 

http://www.reformationtheology.com/2010/01/first_take_the_log_out_of_your.php
I especially loved the last paragraph.
"One other saying of Jesus confirms how he designs mercy as a way of governing our experience of anger. One of the ways that anger expresses itself is in judging others. Jesus gave us a demand in this
regard:

'Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.' (Matt. 7:1-5)

The command not to judge sounds as absolute as the command not to be angry. 'Judge not, that you be not judged.' But what follows the command shows us that there is a kind of judging that is bad and a kind of judging that is necessary and good—just like there is good and bad anger. When Jesus says, 'First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye,' he shows that it is necessary to make judgments about the speck in a brother’s eye. What turns this kind, caring,healing judgment into the judgmentalism that Jesus forbids is the failure to see the log in our own eye. It is the same as the unforgiving servant failing to live in the awareness of the 'log-debt' that he had been forgiven (ten thousand talents), so that he could gladly forgive the 'speck-debt' of his brother (one hundred denarii). Jesus assumes that when we see the log in our own eye, we know how to remove it—that is, we know how to find forgiveness and help from Jesus. otherwise the delicate procedure of removing the speck from the eye of our brother would not be possible. You can’t do delicate, loving eye surgery with a log hanging out of your eye.

So the point of Jesus’ words about judging are to show us how the anger of judgmentalism can be broken. It is broken by a broken heart. We live in the consciousness of our own great sinfulness and in the awareness that only the mercy of Jesus can take the log out of our eye with forgiveness and healing. This awareness turns angry judgment into patient and loving forbearance and delicate correction. Legitimate anger may remain because we are displeased that eye-specks bedevil people we love. But that anger is not the anger of judgmentalism. Good anger is governed by the experience of mercy."

-Excerpt from "What Jesus Demands from the World" by John Piper

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Blessed

photo by Jocelyn Brown

At first I didn’t believe her. After all, why would she blurt it out like that over the phone and during something as mundane as my evening commute? But she finally convinced me, “I really am pregnant! I wouldn’t joke about something like that to you (which I knew to be true, as she has shared my sorrow in being unable to get pregnant).” The feeling within me was instantaneous--sheer, unfettered, absolute joy. In fact, I screamed! My dear sister was going to be a mother, and I was going to be an aunt to a new little one. And of course my sister would share it with me in this way… she was only about 5 minutes pregnant and she was bubbling over with excitement. I should have known...this is the girl who buys Christmas presents for people and can’t wait until Christmas to give them!


That was 7 months ago.

These are her pregnancy photos now.

http://jocelynpics.blogspot.com/2010/01/just-call-me-johny.html
(This link will take you to photographer Jocelyn Brown's blog, and from there you click on a link to see the pictures).

The photos are stunning. The super talented photographer, Jocelyn Brown, did an incredible job of capturing the inner and outer beauty of such a wonderful couple. I just love all the expressions and all the colors.

We can't wait to meet you Caleb Benjamin (after my father).

James 1:17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

Dear Heavenly Father,


Thank you for the children in our life. We are blessed to know and love and enjoy so many little ones in our life. Help us to love, support, invest in, and bless them and their families in the ways you provide.  Thank you so much for this new nephew, Caleb, who is on his way to meet us soon. We know that children are a blessing from you and we thank you for this gift. Father, we pray for your hand of protection on Nisha and Luke and their growing family. May their lives bring you much glory and may they continually see your beauty and truth in increasing measure and respond in love, joy, faith, and worship! May their children know and love you at an early age and may they all be fruitful together in your kingdom--leaving a lasting legacy for your name. Please give Nisha and Caleb strong health during the pregnancy, into labor and afterward.  Please give Nisha strength, favor, health, energy, safety, faith, and peace about childbirth.  Please give Luke strength, wisdom, discernment, and love as he leads the family with whom you have entrusted him.  Show us how we can love and support them and be a blessing to them in every way. In Jesus Name, Amen

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thoughts About Love


I love Pastor Voddie Baucham's definition of love: "Love is an act of the will accompanied by emotion that leads to action on behalf of its object." *

Man, I want to love like that!


God’s standard of love is high and impossible for me to live out apart from His Spirit. Just take a look at Romans 12:9-21:

9 “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.


10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.


11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.


12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.


13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.


14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.


15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.


16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.


17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.


19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”


20 To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’


21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The fact that God commands this standard of me is not just daunting to me but is simply impossible to carry out in my own strength and by my own instinct (which is naturally selfish). Still, the impossibility of me to obey this high standard to which He calls me does not negate the fact that He still calls me to this high standard! There is an answer to this dilemma though. God graciously gives us His empowering Spirit when we first believe, and He graciously fills us with His Spirit as we humbly ask Him to do so. We seek to be continually filled with the Spirit in prayer, through the Word (and particularly through the example of Jesus), by walking in the light before our brothers and sisters, through the counsel of those who know and love Him, and as we spend time in worship of Him, etc. So when I fail to meet this standard of love (as I frequently do) I must humbly go to God in repentance and dependence, asking to be filled by Him. When I do not feel the genuine affection of love, I must still follow through with the actions of love—however, I also must fall on my knees before my gracious Father and pray for the heart of love. After all, God cares about the heart or motives of my actions as much as He cares about the actions that flow from them. And ultimately, if all I have are actions without heart, then my actions are meaningless.

*For more from Voddie Baucham:
http://www.voddiebaucham.org/vbm/home.html

Monday, January 4, 2010

Love that Lasts Marriage Quotes


I’ll admit it. I am a bit of a nerd. I love to read and discuss books. For my birthday present this year, I asked some family members to choose to read from a list of books I selected so that we could discuss. The books were “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande; “Love that Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace” by Gary and Betsy Riccuci; “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller; or “Relationships a Mess Worth Making” by Paul Trip and Tim Lane.
One family member chose “Love that Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace”. He sent me a list of his favorite quotes from the book. It was so fun to see the book through his lens and also to review what I had read. I have to say, it was a great birthday present! Below are his favorite quotes from the book.  And since this is a post on marriage, I would like to dedicate it to my cousin Lisa and her fiancĂ© Owen who got engaged this weekend!  Congratulations!

• "Briefly stated, Scripture teaches that marriage is a profound and marvelous relationship - a mystery, established by God for his glory." - pg. 20

• "The church is the place where men and women exchange worldly independence for biblical humility." - pg. 24

• "A couple who commits to a local church begins to put to death proud and dangerous independence." - pg. 24

• "Roles, it turns out, are a reflection of God's best, not a response to our worst! They display the wisdom of divine order and care and are designed to bring glory to God as they reflect his perfect plan for the greatest good of those he has created." - pg. 31

• "How remarkable and revealing that secular culture recognizes the wisdom of authority, leadership, and defined roles in almost every other area of life - business, sports, entertainment, government, the military, and education - but balks at the notion that men and women should have different roles in marriage." - pg. 34

• "We honor our wives by demonstrating our appreciation, courtesy, and respect: affirming the indications of God's active grace in their lives...Honor not expressed is not honor. Gratitude not expressed is not gratitude." - pg. 39

• "How marvelous that the God who created this tender, affectionate love is also the One who enables us to express it." - pg. 49

• "We may not realize it, but when we withhold respect, what we're really thinking is, When they're worthy, then I'll express respect. I'm so thankful God has never treated me this way! Psalm 103:10 reminds us, "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." - pg. 55

• "Yes, leadership and authority are obviously God-like qualities, but submission is every bit as God-like!" - pg. 58

• "If I posture myself to work on the beauty within, to fear the Lord, and rise to the example of this Proverbs 31 woman, at the very least I know I have sought to be God's girl and not a product of Woman's Day or Cosmopolitan. No longer is Proverbs 31 a list of impossible dreams, but instead it is now poetry, created to inspire me to be more than I am. - pg. 62

• "Married men and women - equal before God in dignity and value but different in function and role - have an inherent, God-given call and desire to regularly fit back into one another's lives, living in intimate companionship and fellowship with one another." - pg. 68

• "One way the foolishness of pride is displayed in our communication is in our love for our own voice and opinions. Consider this proverb, just one of many that ties our speech to wisdom and foolishness: "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion" (Proverbs 18:2)." - pg. 70

• "Certainly one threat is the dulling effect of busyness and routine in marriage. We can end up, in effect, worshiping efficiency and productivity at the expense of regular conversation about God, his Word, and his ways." - pg. 75

• "In fact, the absence of a growing intimacy between husband and wife, although tragically accepted in many marriages as "just the way things are," is in fact evidence of a series of choices to deviate from God's will and his abundantly available grace." - pg. 77

• "Some spouses love to talk easily and casually but find it a challenge to express more complex thoughts and feelings. Others have little patience for small talk and find value only in deeper interactions. The reality is that a marriage needs every type of conversation." - pg. 85

• "Our words are to be intentional in these three ways: good for building up, befitting the occasion, and giving grace to those who hear." - pg. 85

• "None of us ever matures beyond the need for encouragement (because we are still becoming more holy) or correction (because we still sin)." - pg. 91

• "Correct one another out of a desire to serve. Just as correction ought to be given as part of fellowship, not conflict, it must be performed as an act of servanthood, not judgment....Here Jesus warns against judging another's heart, motive, or intentions when we bring correction. Instead, our posture is to be humble and loving, not assuming ill about our spouse. In this way, our spouse benfits from our words, example of humility, and expression of true love." - pg. 93

• "When one spouse was disappointed by the other, the response was anger and unkindness rather than love and self-control." - pg. 98

• "All conflicts in a marriage can be resolved. Yes, all. Our God is able to resolve them. Therefore, any resignation, despair, or hopelessness you may feel regarding your marriage stems far more from an inadequate view of God than it does from any view, accurate or inaccurate, of your spouse or yourself." - pg. 104

• "Committing yourself to serve in the sanctification process over time is not to ignore or excuse your spouse's sin. It is to recognize that the Spirit of God generally brings illumination, understanding, and conviction gradually. Humble patience in a conflict echoes the long-suffering nature of God's love for us." - pg. 108

• "How many confess pride and covetousness with their lips but roll them as honey under their tongue. Augustine said that before his conversion he confessed sin and begged power against it, but his heart whispered within him, "not yet, Lord." - pg. 109

• "If romance is a priority, we will make time for it. If it isn't, we won't. That's how you tell if something is truly a priority. What we deeply value, we will make happen." - pg. 121

• "Bitterness is so wicked because of the self-righetous judgment that sees the faults and failures of others as exceeding our own. And it results in a failure to forgive others as we have been forgiven." - pg. 122

• "We also need to plan for romance; its priority is reflected in our choices about how we structure our time." - pg. 126

• "Romance to us simply means communicating - in as many consistent and creative ways as we can - that our spouse is the most important, precious, desirable person we will ever know." - pg. 131

• "Sex within marriage, with all its unifiying pleasure and procreative power, was God's idea, not ours. He is the author of our sexuality. When we develop a satisfying sexual relationship with our spouse, we honor God as the Creator and designer of sex." - pg. 134

• "In order for romance to deepen, you must touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body." - pg. 139

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Receiving Rebuke Biblically



In the last few days, I have been reading through the book of Proverbs. One of the themes that struck me the most was teach-ability, humility, and a willingness to receive instruction and rebuke. I want to have a soft-heart like that—a heart that listens to Biblical wisdom not just with my ears but with my heart and actions. I want to have a heart that is humble enough to hear and heed the loving Scripture-rooted warnings and challenges of wise brothers and sisters who love the Lord and love me. I want to have a heart that is humble enough to know its own frailty—that is prone to wander, that it is often deceitful, and that it is not always in line with the pure truth of Scripture.

Awhile after my reading in Proverbs, I stumbled onto this article from the PeaceMaker Ministries website.

http://www.peacemaker.net/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=aqKFLTOBIpH&b=1084263&content_id={0285AEC9-A85D-4F16-95D8-A4AB8A5BB3C5}¬oc=1


(I cut and pasted the article below). The article was very convicting and helpful. Sometimes I receive criticism, internalize it, and instead of looking to the cross, I drown in despair. Other times, I can overlook criticism it and continue stubbornly in my own way—justifying it to myself “They don’t understand the whole situation,” etc. Sometimes I can hear unjust criticism and feel anger or bitterness or self-righteousness toward the person giving it. I want to be a woman of wisdom and grace. I want to receive criticism—just or unjust—graciously. Let me be clear--I am not saying that all criticism is true or Biblical or given in the right way with the right heart or that all criticism is meant to be heeded.  However, I want to wisely consider criticism when I receive it and prayerfully comparing it to the pure word of truth in Scripture. I want God’s Word to be my guide, but I want to humbly remember that my heart is deceptive and is in need of the accountability and counsel of godly friends. I want my heart to be humble--recognizing that my loved ones rebuke me out of love--with my interest at heart, and more importantly (and more perfectly) God rebukes me because He loves me.  Even with unfounded or improperly administered criticism, I want to have a heart of sincere love for the one who criticizes me—the kind of love that looks out for the interest of the one who criticizes me. I want to have pure, noble, and lovely thoughts, speaking only what is helpful for building others up. I want a heart that lovingly pursues and seeks godly unity, understanding, and intimacy with those whom I am called to love.  I know this is impossible in my own strength, but God freely gives the power of His own Spirit who is able to do this in me. Lord, I plead with you—give me this heart!

Here is the article:

The Cross and Criticism


This article originally appeared in the Spring 1999 issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling, (Vol. 17, No. 3) and was reprinted on the Peacemaker website by permission. It is also available in booklet form.

by Dr. Alfred J. Poirier, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Peacemaker Ministries


On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger and its crew embarked on a mission to broaden educational horizons and promote the advancement of scientific knowledge. The most outstanding objective of the Challenger 51-L mission was the delivery of educational lessons from space by teacher Christa McAuliffe. A lesson was, indeed, delivered, but not one which anyone expected. Just 75 seconds after liftoff, tragedy struck. Before a watching world the shuttle suddenly erupted overhead, disintegrating the cabin along with its crew. The debris of metal, blood and bones plummeted to earth, along with our nation's glory.


What had gone wrong? That was the pressing question everyone asked. As teams of researchers examined the wreckage, the specific cause was soon found. The problem was with the O-rings (circular rubber seals), which had been designed to fit snugly into the joints of the booster engine sections. Evidently, the O-rings had become defective under adverse conditions, and the resulting mechanical failure led to the tragedy. Was that the whole story?


The truth eventually got out. The New York Times put it frankly: the ultimate cause of the space shuttle disaster was pride. A group of top managers failed to listen carefully to the warnings, advice and criticisms given by those down the line who were concerned about the operational reliability of certain parts of the booster engine under conditions of abnormal stress. Just think: heeding criticism could have saved seven human lives.


As a pastor, church leader, and lecturer for Peacemaker Ministries, I am blessed with the opportunity to minister to people and congregations in conflict.. Among the many things I've come to learn is the dominant role that giving and taking criticism has in exacerbating conflict. Yet, even more, I've learned that the remedy wonderfully provided by God requires us to return to the cross of Christ. For our present purposes, I want us to look at the problem of taking criticism.


The Dynamic of Defending Against Criticism


First of all, let me define what I mean by criticism. I'm using criticism in a broad sense as referring to any judgment made about you by another, which declares that you fall short of a particular standard. The standard may be God's or man's. The judgment may be true or false. It may be given gently with a view to correction, or harshly and in a condemnatory fashion. It may be given by a friend or by an enemy. But whatever the case, it is a judgment or criticism about you, that you have fallen short of a standard.


However it comes, most of us would agree that criticism is difficult to take. Who of us doesn't know someone with whom we need to be especially careful in our remarks lest they blow up in response to our suggested corrections? Unfortunately, as I travel around the country, the tale is often told that many people would never dare confront or criticize their pastor or leader for fear of retaliation. Many just find another organization to work for or church to attend.


In fact, don't you know of leaders who select those to be nearest to them who are easiest on them? How many times have you been warned to "walk on eggshells" around that person?


As sad a commentary as this is, such people are not much different from me. I, too, do not like criticism. Any criticism is hard for me to take. I'd much rather be commended than corrected, praised than rebuked. I'd much rather judge than be judged! And I do not think that I am alone in this. The more I listen, the more I hear the dynamic of defensiveness against criticism.


In counseling, I see it in the humorous way a couple will be diverted from the issue at hand to debate who said what, when, and where. Or in how people debate back and forth as to whether it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday when they did something.


Why do we expend so much time and energy swatting at these flies with sledgehammers? Why are our hearts and minds so instantly engaged and our emotions surging with great vigor in our defense? The answer is simple. These issues are not minor or insignificant. We defend that which we deem of great value. We think it is our life we are saving. We believe something much larger will be lost if we do not use every means to rescue it. Our name, our reputation, our honor, our glory.


"If I don't point out that I've been misunderstood, misquoted, or falsely accused, then others won't know I'm right. And if I don't point out my rightness, nobody will. I will be scorned and condemned in the eyes of others."


Do you see the idol of self here? The desire for self-justification? But idols have legs. Because of this deep idolatrous desire for self-justification, the tragedy of the Space Shuttle gets played out over and over again in our relationships. It destroys our ability to listen and learn, and it provokes us to quarrel.


Thus, for the sake of our pride and foolishness, we willingly suffer loss of friends, spouse, or loved ones. Some of that destruction comes in the shape of a thin truce. We tolerate a cold war. We make a false peace. We pledge to each other to discuss only those things which have little significance for bettering our souls. We lay out land mines and threaten the other that we will explode in anger if they so much as raise the forbidden subject of my mistake, my error, or my sin.


This is how churches split and factions develop. We surround ourselves with "yes" men—people willing to never challenge, advise, or criticize us. Yet, while we go on defending ourselves against criticism, we find Scripture teaching something different.


Criticism Commended


The ability to hear and heed correction or criticism is commended in Scripture, particularly in Proverbs. Being teachable, able and willing to receive correction, is a mark of the wise. And the wise father or mother will encourage as well as model such an attitude for their daughters and sons.


The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice (Prov. 12:15).


Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Prov. 13:10).


A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool (Prov. 17:10).


The ability to take advice, correction, and rebuke is not only considered a mark of the wise, and the inability a mark of the fool, but both the wise and the fool reap according to their ability to take criticism:


He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded (Prov. 13:13).


Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning (Prov.. 9:9).


He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding (Prov. 15:32).


There is gain in taking criticism. No wonder David exclaims in Psalm 141:5: Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. David knows the profit of gaining wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. He knows rebukes are a kindness, a blessing, an honor.


Ask yourself: Is that how you look at a rebuke? Is that how you perceive criticism, correction or counsel? Do you want to look at it that way?


How can we move from always being quick to defend ourselves against any and all criticism toward becoming instead like David who saw it as gain? The answer is through understanding, believing, and affirming all that God says about us in the cross of Christ.


Paul summed it up when he said, "I have been crucified with Christ." A believer is one who identifies with all that God affirms and condemns in Christ's crucifixion. God affirms in Christ's crucifixion the whole truth about Himself: His holiness, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth as revealed and demonstrated in His Son, Jesus. Equally, in the cross God condemns the lie: sin, deceit, and the idolatrous heart. He condemns my sinfulness as well as my specific sins. Let's see how this applies to giving and taking criticism.


First, in Christ's Cross I Agree With God's Judgment of Me


I see myself as God sees me—a sinner. There is no escaping the truth: "No one is righteous, not even one" ( Rom. 3:9-18). In response to my sin, the cross has criticized and judged me more intensely, deeply, pervasively, and truly than anyone else ever could. This knowledge permits us to say to all other criticism of us: "This is just a fraction of it."


Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law (Gal. 3:10).


For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).


By faith, I affirm God's judgment of myself, that I am a sinner. I also believe that the answer to my sin lies in the cross.


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live (Gal. 2:20).


For we know that our old self was crucified with him [Jesus] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6).


If the cross says anything, it speaks about my sin. The person who says "I have been crucified with Christ" is a person well aware of his sinfulness. You'll never get life right by your own unaided efforts because all who rely on observing the law are under a curse. "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10). Thus the cross doesn't merely criticize or judge us; it condemns us for not doing everything written in God's law. Do you believe that? Do you feel the force of that criticism? Do you appreciate the thoroughness of God's judgment?




The crucified person also knows that he cannot defend himself against God's judgment by trying to offset his sin by his good works. Think about this fact: whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).

To claim to be a Christian is to agree with all God says about our sin. As a person "crucified with Christ," we admit, agree, and approve of God's judgment against us: There is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10).


Second, In Christ's Cross I Agree With God's Justification of Me


I must not only agree with God's judgment of me as sinner in the cross of Christ, but I must also agree with God's justification of me as sinner. Through the sacrificial love of Jesus, God justifies ungodly people (Rom. 3:21-26).

But the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).


My goal is to boast in Christ's righteousness, not my own.


No one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law (Rom. 3:20).

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:22).


Pride breeds quarrels, says Solomon. Quarrels are often over who is right. Quarrels erupt in our idolatrous demand for self-justification. But not if I am applying the cross. For the cross not only declares God's just verdict against me as a sinner, but His declaration of righteousness by grace through faith in Christ.


The cross of Christ reminds me that the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. And because of this, God has thoroughly and forever accepted me in Christ. Here is how grace works: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:13f).


What a sure foundation for the soul! Now, I don't practice self-justification, but boasting—boasting about Christ's righteousness for me.


If you truly take this to heart, the whole world can stand against you, denounce you, or criticize you, and you will be able to reply, "If God has justified me, who can condemn me?" "If God justifies me, accepts me, and will never forsake me, then why should I feel insecure and fear criticism?" "Christ took my sins, and I receive His Spirit.. Christ takes my condemnation, and I receive His righteousness."


In light of God's judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God's criticism of me in Christ's cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me. In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy. If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? ( Rom. 8:33-34a).

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it (Ps. 141:5).


If I know myself as crucified with Christ, I can now receive another's criticism with this attitude: "You have not discovered a fraction of my guilt. Christ has said more about my sin, my failings, my rebellion and my foolishness than any man can lay against me. I thank you for your corrections. They are a blessing and a kindness to me. For even when they are wrong or misplaced, they remind me of my true faults and sins for which my Lord and Savior paid dearly when He went to the cross for me. I want to hear where your criticisms are valid."


The correction and advice that we hear are sent by our heavenly Father. They are His corrections, rebukes, warnings, and scoldings. His reminders are meant to humble me, to weed out the root of pride and replace it with a heart and lifestyle of growing wisdom, understanding, goodness, and truth. For example, if you can take criticism—however just or unjust—you'll learn to give it with gracious intent and constructive results. See the sidebar, "Giving Criticism God's Way."


I do not fear man's criticism for I have already agreed with God's criticism. And I do not look ultimately for man's approval for I have gained by grace God's approval. In fact, His love for me helps me to hear correction and criticism as a kindness, oil on my head, from my Father who loves me and says, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son" (Heb. 12:5-6).

Applying What We've Learned


1. Critique yourself. How do I typically react to correction? Do I pout when criticized or corrected? What is my first response when someone says I'm wrong? Do I tend to attack the person? To reject the content of criticism? To react to the manner? How well do I take advice? How well do I seek it? Are people able to approach me to correct me? Am I teachable?


Do I harbor anger against the person who criticizes me? Do I immediately seek to defend myself, hauling out my righteous acts and personal opinions in order to defend myself and display my rightness? Can my spouse, parents, children, brothers, sisters, or friends correct me?

2. Ask the Lord to give you a desire to be wise instead of a fool. Use Proverbs to commend to yourself the goodness of being willing and able to receive criticism, advice, rebuke, counsel, or correction. Meditate upon the passages given above: Proverbs 9:9; 12:15; 13:10,13; 15:32; 17:10; Psalm 141:5.

3. Focus on your crucifixion with Christ. While I can say I have faith in Christ, and even say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ," yet I still find myself not living in light of the cross. So I challenge myself with two questions. First, if I continually squirm under the criticism of others, how can I say I know and agree with the criticism of the cross? Second, if I typically justify myself, how can I say I know, love, and cling to God's justification of me through Christ's cross? This drives me back to contemplating God's judgment and justification of the sinner in Christ on the cross. As I meditate on what God has done in Christ for me, I find a resolve to agree with and affirm all that God says about me in Christ, with whom I've been crucified.

4. Learn to speak nourishing words to others. I want to receive criticism as a sinner living within Jesus' mercy, so how can I give criticism in a way that communicates mercy to another? Accurate, balanced criticism, given mercifully, is the easiest to hear—and even against that my pride rebels. Unfair criticism or harsh criticism (whether fair or unfair) is needlessly hard to hear. How can I best give accurate, fair criticism, well tempered with mercy and affirmation?


My prayer is that in your struggle against the sin of self-justification you will deepen your love for the glory of God as revealed in the gospel of His Son, and that you will grow wise by faith.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Alfred J. Poirier pastors Rocky Mountain Community Church, PCA, as well as serves as adjunct instructor for Peacemaker Ministries on issues involving conflict counseling and mediation. He completed his D. Min. in counseling at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside , PA in 2005.


Text box from the same article:


Implications for Dealing with Criticism


GIVING CRITICISM GOD'S WAY

I see my brother/sister as one for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11).

Keep on loving each other as brothers (Heb. 13:1).

I come as an equal, who also is a sinner.

Are we any better than they? Not at all. For there is no one righteous...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:9,23).

I prepare my heart lest I speak out of wrong motives.

All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD (Prov. 16:2).

The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil (Prov. 15:28).

A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction (Prov. 16:23).

I examine my own life and confess my sin first.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matt. 7:3-5).


I am always patient, in it for the long haul (Eph. 4:2).


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (1 Cor. 13:4).


My goal is not to condemn by debating points, but to build up through constructive criticism.


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may give grace to those who listen (Eph. 4:29).


I correct and rebuke my brother gently, in the hope that God will grant him the grace of repentance even as I myself repent only through His grace.


And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth... (2 Tim. 2:24-25).