Taming the Tongue
On Sunday January 12, 2014 Pastor Tim Christensen of Gold Hills Evangelical Lutheran Church in Butte, Montana delivered a one-minute sermon that has gone viral around the globe. A die-hard 49’s fan, Pastor Tim said he really wanted to watch the 49’s vs. Panther’s football game at noon, ergo the one-minute sermon. At the end of the mini-sermon he displayed the 49’s jersey he was wearing beneath his alb. If you haven’t seen the video you can watch it here.
Pastor Tim’s congregation received the message with lots of laughter, but as the video spread across social media and global news outlets many of the responses were, shall we say, less than charitable. Pastor Tim was soundly condemned by many for “giving into the culture” and demeaning worship. Others said he didn’t deserve to serve as an ordained pastor. The video was like a spark on a gas spill. How could any bible-believing, Jesus-loving pastor cut worship to 60 seconds in favor of football?
But it was a joke. Pastor Tim came back and did the full liturgy, sermon and all. He was poking fun both at himself as a football fan and at our culture’s obsession with sports. I’ve read several blogs that have mourned the lack of humor in so many Christians these days (and I agree!), but I think these events also reveal how badly many of us need to review the wisdom of Martin Luther’s explanation to the eighth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not misrepresent, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
Did you catch that last phrase? The best construction on everything. I’m dismayed by how often we jump to conclusions and put the worst possible construction on the words and actions of others, especially when doing so serves to reinforce our own biases. We tell ourselves a story of half-truths (because we don’t bother to seek the whole truth) and make all sorts of assumptions about someone’s motivations and intentions (as if we know someone’s heart without asking them). And then we spread it like manure, fertilizing the fields of discontent and broken relationships throughout the community around us.
Eugene Peterson, in his bible translation called The Message, puts it beautifully:
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. – James 3:5-10
I don’t agree with everything our dear brother, Martin Luther, wrote but on this matter I think his words are worthy of the kind of reflection that might lead us to self-examination, confession and repentance. And then perhaps some serious tongue-taming.
How do you tame your tongue? What’s helped you to put the best construction on the words and actions of others? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and share your experience.