Jumping to Conclusions

It seems to be the season for jumping to conclusions. Whether from anxiety over the Republic’s election choices, our ongoing family squabbles at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, or as a result of offenses done toward us in the course of our days here on earth. The Apostle James speaks to that last issue; at least according to some commentators:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian minister, gives us three possible understandings of this verse. He considers the third one most likely. All of them have to do with restraining our passions, or, as we say today: “holding our tongue,” “holding fire,” or “cooling off.” First, he explains by what means we should restrain our passions:

This lesson we should learn under afflictions; and this we shall learn if we are indeed begotten again by the word of truth. For thus the connection stands—An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, v. 19.

Henry then offers that this verse may refer to verse 18 immediately preceding that concerns God’s word:

…So, we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear God’s word, and apply our minds to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. Let not such errors [(i.e., substituting conjectures and opinions for truth)]…ever be hastily, much less angrily, mentioned by you; but be ready to hear and consider what God’s word teaches in all such cases.

Or, verse 19 may refer to the verses at the chapter’s beginning:

This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter. And then we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by them, than to say as David did in his haste, “I am cut off;” or as Jonah did in his passion, “I do well to be angry.” Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us.

Or, finally, Henry suggests this understanding most confidently:

This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so, this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other.

People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak anything that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turns away wrath.

As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses’s spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.

In this holiday season, may we join with Moses, as he was during his better days, and be men and women of meek spirits. Hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and we, too, shall stand before the Judge.

Freedom from Want - NARA

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945), Public Domain

Fear No Man

Many of us have feared someone. Bullies, from school, work, next door, or the national stage, come to mind. In an effort to blend in or hide, we change what we say, what we think, and what we do. Perhaps, if you are a Christian, you betray your witness of Him. Not everyone who inspires fear is a mere bully, though. Some are sociopaths. These can turn your world upside down or worse.

The collected proverbs of scripture are not just fortune cookie prescriptions for our amusement, but hard truths leading to life. Concerning bullies and sociopaths, it says:

The fear of man lays a snare,

    but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

Proverbs 29:25 English Standard Version (ESV)

That seems unlikely. How does belief in a Deity provide safety from what may become for us trials that lead to certain death? For that answer, let us look to the source of wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (ESV)

And again:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Luke 12:4-5 (ESV)

Calvin’s analysis of these passages and their contexts is enlightening:

…Our Lord’s discourse consists of two parts. First, in order to instruct us to bear with composure the loss of the bodily life, he bids us contemplate both eternal life and eternal death, and then arrives gradually at this [second] point, that the protection of our life is in the hand of God.

…Now the proud imaginations of wicked men, as if the life of the godly were placed at their disposal, is utterly unfounded: for God keeps them within limits, and restrains, whenever it pleases him, the cruelty and violence of their attacks. And yet they are said to have power to kill by his permission, for he often permits them to indulge their cruel rage.

…These words of Christ ought therefore to be explained in this manner: “Acknowledge that you have received immortal souls, which are subject to the disposal of God alone, and do not come into the power of men.” The consequence will be, that no terrors or alarms which men may employ will shake your faith. “For how comes it that the dread of men prevails in the struggle, but because the body is preferred to the soul, and immortality is less valued than a perishing life?”

The calculus we fear to face is that this life is not meant for pleasures but for testing. When all is said and done, death overtakes us all. Bullies and sociopaths can take no more from us than this earthly existence. If our lives are hidden with Christ, then we will appear with Him. Even now He walks with us. Fear Him.

The Seventy SevensYou Don’t Scare MeAll Fall Down (1984), Lyrics

Live Blues Version (1990)