Dallas: . . . is in your heart towards us. We are thankful to be able to remember the magnificence of your gift to us and for us in Your Son and although we cannot fully comprehend it, we are glad also to have begun to move into the reality of the life, which was in Him and which was poured out on our behalf and for us before you as well as into us through your church in the ongoing incarnation which you have proposed and brought to pass in history and which is even now a reality in our midst.
Dear Lord, calm our minds and help us to open them. Surround us with your Spirit and the truth that sets us free and enable us to lay hold of all that you have for us. We look at the world and we look around us and we see the heartbreak and the grief, the death and the destruction, the disease that ravages the minds and the bodies of those we know and love. We cry out, “Oh, God, Oh, God, help us to be all and to channel all that you have for humanity through us.”
Now as we come to study these very particular important matters of the spiritual disciplines, give us the sense to know how we may implement them in our lives that we might be conformed to the image of your Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters in Him. In Jesus’ Name we ask that because we know that it is what He came for and what He wants, and so we ask it. Amen. Amen. [2:11]
Now, this evening we are going to start right off by talking about silence and the tongue, and I’d like for you to look at a few passages from the book of James to help us keep in mind the power that is in the tongue for good and for evil.
I shall not this evening have time to really begin to touch on so much that is in the Bible about it and the very best thing you can do to understand the significance of the tongue in the religious life is to read the book of Proverbs and just study what it says about words and about the tongue. [2:57]
Let me just give you a taste. “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words?” Anyone here like that? “ . . . there is more hope of a fool than of him.” Caught ‘cha, didn’t I? [Laughter] That’s Proverbs 29:20.
Proverbs 18:21—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .”–death and life are in the power of the tongue—“and they that love (indulge) it shall eat the fruit thereof.” That is, if they have a life giving tongue, they shall have life from it and if they have a death dealing tongue, they will have death from it and we’ve all I’m sure seen that happen over and over. This is one reason why it is so Important that we come to a place where we are able, as James says to “bridle our tongue,” which curiously doesn’t just mean to stop it. [4:08]
I don’t know if you’ve thought about this but we often, when we say to someone, “Bridle your tongue;” normally, we mean stop it—make it stop, but bridling a tongue isn’t just to stop it; it is to direct it. A horse has a bridle and a bit in the mouth, not just to stop the horse, but to direct the horse as well—to control the horse.
Well, we could read many, many other passages. Perhaps we will look at some of those later on but right now, for the book of James, the 1st chapter, and verse 26—“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” [5:00]
We have to understand here that the problem is not just with the tongue you see. The tongue is connected to the heart, isn’t it? “ . . . for (out) of the abundance of the heart his (the) mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45)
You recall that Jesus said that we will be judged by every idle word that comes from our mouth and He didn’t just mean, we would be judged by them, because they were idle. You know, an idle word is opposed to a word where you are on guard and when you are on guard, you can’t tell much about what’s in your heart because you are filtering what’s in your heart through your head before it gets to you tongue. Hmmm? But then when you are not on guard at he idle moment, out pops the heart, right on the tongue, right? [6:05]
And, so the tongue then reveals what is in the heart and that’s why James is saying this. You see, you can’t say, “Well I’m sure going to fix up my heart by bridling my tongue.” Now, James is not saying that you fix up your heart by bridling your tongue. He is saying, “An unbridled tongue is an indication and gives indications of an undisciplined and vain heart.” (James 1:26)
James is in many ways closely connected with the book of Proverbs. You will know that he has an emphasis on works on the reality of character that has disturbed some people and he is unwilling to contemplate a faith without works. He is a great believer in character. Character will “out.” You see, our character is what we are disposed to do in the conditions under which we live and what we are disposed to do turns out to be what we actually do, at least over the long run. James is very stern on people who believe that they can divorce their religion from their character. [7:26]
He says many things that leave us uncomfortable. Indeed, the verse following the one I just read is a shocker for some people. Let me just read it to you. This is James 1:27—“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the Fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” That’s pure religion according to James.
Now, James because he is concerned about what we do and how what we do affects our lives, in chapter 3 devotes; well, really he devotes the entire chapter to the tongue and note some of the ways that he describes the tongue. [8:14]
James 3:2 says “ . . . if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” What he seems to be saying here is if you can subjugate your tongue, there isn’t anything else you’ve got that you can’t subjugate. If you can do that, you’ve got it. It’s the slipperiest greased pig you will ever try to catch—is your tongue. [8:40]
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.” (James 3:3) You see, what James is building up to here is the fact that the way our tongue runs not only shows what is in our heart and in our character, but also determines the course of our future action. Have you ever noticed the extent of what you do is determined by what you “have said” and so he compares the tongue to the bit in the horse’s mouth and then he goes on to speak about a ship.
Notice here it is compared to a rudder. “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet they are turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things . . .” (James 3:4-5) then he introduces another metaphor—“Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5) [9:46]
When I was about nine years old, I and a group of my comrades were doing what one does in the Ozarks. You run around in the woods and somebody had a match and a cigarette and so one thing led to another and as we walked on down the road, one of us looked back and all of a sudden there was this huge fire and so, for about two or three days, the whole countryside had the problem of putting out a fire. I never got over how that little bitty match could do that.
Now, the power of the tongue for good and evil is just incomprehensible—just incomprehensible. “ . . . Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body . . .” It defiles the whole body because it sets the course by which one lives. What you say commits you to the course of action, which you follow. It is creative in many, many ways. It is creative of the course of action in which you will run. [11:14]
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) Now, notice he did not say, “It can’t be tamed.” He said, “No man could tame it.” No man can tame it. “Therewith bless we God . . . and therewith curse we men . . .” (James 3:9) He is struck with what you must be struck with there as you reflect on it—how the same person can go around blessing God and cursing men.
This is the same paradox that John, the old Apostle brings out in the first letter. How can you love God whom you have not seen if you do not love men whom you have seen? (1 John 4:20) Out of the same mouth and then he goes on to describe who is the wise man—James 3:13—“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”
If there is anything that cuts the root of evil in the tongue, it is meekness. Meekness will cut the root of evil in the tongue quicker than anything else. I am going to return to that in a moment when I make a practical suggestion about the discipline of the tongue but I want to continue reading here so that you will get the contrast between the kind of thing that comes forth from the tongue of the wise person and the tongue of the person who is born from above. [12:58]
“Who is a wise man . . . let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:13-15) Anytime you have a situation where no matter how holy we may sound and look and call ourselves, we are engaged in bitter denunciation, bitter words, strife, envying, the wisdom which our tongue is expressing is not from God, no matter how sharp it may seem. No matter how devastating it may be, it is not from God. It lacks the meekness of wisdom, which characterizes the wisdom of God. [13:49]
This is an excellent touchstone for all of us to use. I don’t know how far this is true of you but my business is pretty well words. I produce words for a living. There are awful temptations in it. There are awful temptations to try to learn how to speak and prevail by the force of the tongue and to disregard such familiar old sayings as “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” And finally, you think, “Well, I sure shut them up.” You know?
Teaching in a university is a constant challenge to me at least because you are in a power position and very few people will buck you in that position and you can shut people up very fast and you know this is possible also in the church. It is possible as a minster or a teacher to think in terms simply of having one’s say and in that having one’s way with the audience and what one has to come to is the realization that that is not the issue at all. How I look—whether or not I win is simply not an issue. [15:24]
Now, look at the characterization of the other kind of wisdom in James 3: 16-18, he says, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy . . .” I love this description more than any of the others. “ . . . easy to be entreated”—easy to be entreated, “ . . . full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”
The mark of the tongue that is connected then to the right kind of thing is of course, peace. It is not first of all, power. You will notice that there isn’t a thing said in this list about power or speed or loudness or any of those things which we try to master with our tongue. All of the things that are mentioned are in terms of peace and mercy, the ease with which people are approached and this is the mark we want to look for in the disciplined tongue. [16:49]
I want to just list some things that you can do with your tongue. A lot of these are discussed in the book of Proverbs. I may occasionally give you a reference to it as I go along but I want to just list these things because you may not have thought about all of them and I don’t know how it will affect you but when I look these things over, I wind up at least mentally on my knees saying, “Oh God, do something about my tongue.”
Gossip. Flattery. Backbiting. Insulting. Boasting. Taking credit—you know about that one? Taking credit? That’s one of the hardest things I have to do. If I am in a situation where it seems like I might not get credit, I need an anvil to set on my tongue. You have that problem? “They just might not appreciate me.” [Laughter] “I’d better put in a word here or at least a hint.” [Laughter]
It’s not quite the same thing as boasting. You see, boasting is actually a situation where you just—the credit isn’t an issue until you make it an issue by announcing it. You see taking credit is that situation where credit is an issue and it just might pass you by and you wouldn’t want that.
Baiting—we bait people with our tongues. We contend with our tongues. We curse. We entice. [18:46]
There is a category in the book of Proverbs of the whisperer. It says in Proverbs 16:28—“ . . . a whisperer separateth chief friends.” Actually, there is a whole thing we could talk about, about the whisperer. The whisperer is of course, he wants to get his point over but he doesn’t want people to hear as do with secrecy and perhaps, even with being nice because after all, you didn’t announce it out loud. You just whispered it. [19:26]
Promising—promising is a fascinating thing to think about. Promising you do with the tongue. The Proverbs talks a lot about how promising is a snare. For example, Proverbs 22:26-27 or Proverbs 6:2—Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” and it is basically talking about how your tongue commits you to things.
Under the category of promising are false vows to God, taking vows to God, making vows to God, which are not kept. That is what in Ecclesiastes is called “the sacrifice of fools.” The sacrifice of a fool is a person says, “Oh, God, I am going to do such and such.” Normally, he does it when someone else is listening perhaps but sometimes he may do it when he is really in a tough spot and it’s just him and God. But, that tongue comes out and makes a promise. [20:38]
Then there is mocking, ridicule, scorn, bullying, threatening. Proverbs talks a lot about the violence of the tongue. Proverbs 10:11 for example and 12:6.
Complaining, griping, muttering, lying, sowing discord: there is a whole category in the book of Proverbs, which in the old version is called the “froward mouth.” F-r-o-w-a-r-d—the froward mouth. It’s a little difficult to just define that but this is the person whose mouth is sort of always running in all directions—just managing and manipulating and impressing and swearing a little bit here to impress people and just adjusting everything, you know –just adjusting everything—a “froward mouth.” It isn’t just a loud mouth, though it includes that. There is a lot in there; for example, I’ll give you some verses, okay. Proverbs 8:13; 6:12; 10:31-32; 16:28—the froward mouth. [21:49]
And then we go into slander, manipulation. Well, talebearers, false witness. Really, I guess I can’t give you any kind of list that I would want to call as complete but just think about all of that power that is in the tongue.
Now, we could list the other side. A tongue can bless. A tongue can nourish. A tongue can rebuke in a way that is good. It can encourage. It can inform. It can praise. It can direct. It can pray. It can sing. The writers of the Proverbs were tremendously impressed with the power for good. There is one that above all brings it out. Proverbs 25:15 says, “ . . . a soft tongue breaketh the bone”—a soft tongue breaketh the bone and you will recall the verse which says that a “soft answer turneth away wrath. . . ” (Proverbs 15:1) “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) [23:15]
I just wanted to give you some of the categories in which the tongue is discussed in the Bible. There is so much about it and I‘ve really tried to cover this much just from the human point of view. I haven’t tried to go in to the use of the tongue to speak the Word of God. We’ve talked a little bit about the Word of God and how it is creative, how it is redemptive, but I just want to add on that one of the things that we can do with our tongue is to speak the creative Word of God—to speak the creative Word of God. That is to say, we can come to the place that when we speak, God speaks. That’s what we are intended to do. It is intended by God to come to the place when we speak, God speaks. [24:13]
You remember some of the verses that Jesus gave to His disciples like whenever you are called before the courts, “Don’t give any thought to what you are going to say because it is the Spirit of God that will speak through you.” I believe perhaps that a number of you have had that experience of speaking and perhaps not even knowing what you were saying until it was over and learning later that there was a tremendous effect of those words and this is an experience which all of us must be open to and willing to learn.
You will notice how often in the New Testament people speak for things instead of pray for them. Have you noticed that? That for healing or something of that sort, sometimes they pray and many times they just speak. It is the creative power of the Word in the tongue where the sin that is in that little member has been replaced by the righteousness of God in that member. [25:23]
Well, there is a lot more I would like to say but I want to say a few practical things about silence and let me just say this—two things—I’ll settle for two things on this part.
First of all, you must plan to spend some time without speaking. Plan to spend the time. Don’t try to do it without planning. You should not try to undertake any of the disciplines without planning because if you do, you will probably be so disappointed and feel so badly about it that you won’t want to try it again for quite awhile—maybe never—see? And so, plan some time to be completely silent. Plan time to be silent both as we spoke last time, cutting the sound off that’s coming in and the sound off that’s going out. Cut them both. Silence! Pure Silence! [26:29]
Now, let me just add a theoretical point on that that’s very important. You see, in silence, we are able to turn inward to ourselves and until we come to ourselves, there is little or no genuine repentance. One of the most important few words in all of the gospels is in the story of the prodigal son where it says, “He came to himself.” Now, solitude and silence is an absolutely indispensible condition of really coming to yourself. You will not know who you are until you are able to be silent and to be alone and to consider and look and listen inwardly to yourself. Then you begin to know who you are. And as long as you are in effect a yo-yo on the end of some strings that are running in your ears or out your mouth, for that matter because you see, we are so constantly trying to adjust how others perceive us by running our tongue. We are so constantly adjusting that. It’s just like we adjust a movie projector or something. We are just constantly adjusting other people’s perceptions of us by saying things. But, the trouble with that is we are adjusting our own perceptions of ourselves by keeping talking. We stop talking! Just stop talking! Stop hearing and simply be what we are. We are coming to ourselves. [28:28]
Now, it isn’t only this that does this. All of the Disciplines of Abstinence—fasting will teach you things about yourself you never dreamed of. Hmmm? We are going to come next time to talk about sexual matters. I like to chide Richard Foster a little bit about the fact that he doesn’t have a chapter on disciplines relating to sexual matters and yet it’s one of the more important things that is discussed in the New Testament. [29:03]
When you come to grips with that, you come to know whom you are. See, one of the things about you and me and every other person who lives is we are a sexual being. Hmmm? And we must learn to come to know ourselves in that connection. We must learn to know as Peter says using his phrase of “dwelling according to knowledge,” right—dwelling according to knowledge with the opposite sex and with ourselves and in that we come to know ourselves.
Now, listen, we have a lot of serious problems in our churches and in our ministry that express themselves finally as psychological problems. We have mental and emotional breakdowns. We have a lot of suicide in our churches, and the problem is that we are not dealing realistically in our teaching with these things. [Went silent from 30:22 to 30:32] . . . split that lesson up. [30:35]
So, let me very quickly go over simplicity, frugality, and poverty. First of all, let’s try to say what simplicity is, okay? Simplicity! [Writing on a blackboard] A lack of disjointed complexity in intention and will—A lack of disjointed complexity in intention and will. Now, note it isn’t just a lac k of complexity. OK? It’s a lack of disjointed complexity. It’s a lack of unity that causes us to be so distracted and troubled with the complexity of life. It isn’t just manifoldness. It isn’t just that there are many things. It’s that they do not fit together in one simple unified hole. [32:07]
One of the remarkable things about every great work of art is its simplicity but that simplicity is not a function of whether or not it’s very complex. The simplicity is a function of the unifying principle. Now, you take a magnificent novel by Tolstoy or a painting by Qigong or any of the great painters we might mention and the remarkable thing about them is the unity. You look at the lines and you look at the colors in the painting; they all converge on a central vision and simplicity is a lack of disjointed complexity in intention and in will.
Kierkegaard’s title, which is discussed in Richard Foster’s book, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. OK? Now, let me add on here. I think it will help us to clarify things if we put them all up at once—Simplicity, Frugality, and Poverty, okay.
So, let’s go now to frugality. [Writing on the Blackboard] Frugality is an interesting word. It derives from a Latin word meaning fruit and seems to have initially got its sense from people who just ate fruit. They didn’t eat meats and breads and things of that sort. They just ate fruit. They sort of lived off the land, in other words and frugality has come to refer to a simple kind of consumption—a consumption of just what is necessary, just what is necessary; that’s all, just what is necessary. A consumption of just what is necessary and the goods may not be food; they may be other things but we have another idea of using things up and just eating fruit for example, which would be the literal meaning of frugality—a fruit eater; someone who is just living off the land and not requiring a lot of fancy stuff we might say. Just taking what they need to live—that’s frugality, and it would apply to clothing. It would apply to housing, transportation and all of the various kinds of things that we consume. [34:48]
So, let’s say here [Writing on board] consuming only what is necessary. Frugality is opposed to waste. It is opposed to waste—w-a-s-t-e, and in some sense, w-a-i-s-t. [Laughter] It’s opposed to waste but now waste as an unnecessary kind of destruction.
Now finally, poverty. (Writing on board] Let’s just think of poverty as absence of resources—absence of resources. Let me summarily say that both of these; simplicity and frugality are commands of the scripture. They are demands of the life of the disciple. Poverty is not.
Poverty is discussed in various places and I don’t think I’ll have time to deal with those passages this evening but I want to say, “Poverty is not a command for the disciple.” It is a kind of astringent medicine for certain people who are hung up on their possessions. The rich young ruler who came to Jesus and said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” You recall, Jesus told him, “First, keep the commandments.” And he said, “Well, I’ve done that. What’s next?” Right? And then he really touched the sore spot because He said, “Go sell everything you have and give it away to the poor and come and follow me.” And it says, “He went away sorrowing because he had much goods.” [37:00]
And of course it is somewhat trite but important to say, the point was “not that he had a lot of goods, but that a lot of goods had him.” That was a problem, you see. The goods had him, and so then Jesus reflected on this and said, “How hardly shall a rich man enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How hard it is.” This astounded His disciples because they were still thinking that being in God’s favor meant if you were rich, that meant you were in God’s favor and so certainly you would make it. But, that was just one of their confusions which to some extent is still shared today by many people.
The truth of the matter is poverty or riches have very little to do with the case. What matters is what is on the inside and remember that not money but the love of money is the root of all evil and there is no man who loves money like a poor man and you can be poor and be as ruined and many people are, ruined by the love of money as any rich man. [38:10]
There is a curious paradox here. Actually, it is much easier for a rich person to live a simple life than it is a poor person. A poor person is normally in a position where they just can’t get enough on their life to make it simple and it’s very hard. You know if you’ve ever been a poor person and knew what it was like to try to deal with groceries and medicine and so on, it gets very complex, doesn’t it? Just juggling bills—it’s a lot of work. Just think if you could just sit down and write them all one day of the month and forget it. But, no you have to think about—wait a moment now, what’s the last minute I can write this one? And the person who is rich has many opportunities for simplicity in their life but the poor person doesn’t. The mere fact that a person owns goods does not mean that they are victimized by them, though in the normal case that’s the way it happens. [39:09]
Now, I want to back up now having kind of laid these out and talk mainly about simplicity for the rest of my time because simplicity I think is really the heart of the matter and if we master simplicity, we are well on the way to being in control of this particular part of ourselves that has to do with the possession and use of material goods. Let’s read some verses now.
Here are some texts that are relevant to the matter of simplicity and I think in all of them you are going to see how we are ensnared by disjointed complexity and by the way, it doesn’t take a lot of it. It doesn’t take a lot of disjointing to mess up our lives. Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” See, there’s a fundamental disjointing that people try to make. They want to serve God and they want to serve mammon. You can’t do it. [40:14]
The passage in Matthew 13:22 where you find one of the categories in the parable of the sower with which I trust you are all familiar because it’s an awfully important parable about the Kingdom of God. Matthew 13:22—I’ll just read the 22nd verse here, I think. This is the category of seed that fell among the thorns. Now, watch what happens to this seed. It’s Matthew 13:22—“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful”—becometh unfruitful.” [41:08]
Luke 8:14 words this just a little differently, interestingly so, so let’s take a moment to look at that. Luke 8:14—“And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they had heard, go forth, and are choked with cares . . .”—just cares this time—“ . . . and riches and pleasures of this life . . .” You see, that’s just exactly this disjointed complexity that we are talking about.
Probably the main charter for the disciple of Christ on simplicity is contained in the 6th chapter of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount beginning with verse 24. Well, really we could begin earlier but we don’t have time. It’s talking about treasures, okay and how treasures goof up your eye so you can’t see straight. You are seeing double or triple or quadruple or how ever many things it is you have got your mind on. [42:22]
Now he says in verse 24—“ No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you . . .” Now, note the “therefore.” OK? Therefore relates back to the discussion of serving mammon. [42:40]
What is it to serve mammon? It is to be in bondage to material goods. To serve mammon is to be in bondage to material goods. You may be serving mammon. If you are in bondage to material goods, you are. Now, what does that mean? Well, he says, “ . . . Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25) For some people, you have to honestly say, “No, it isn’t.” That’s all there is to it. That is the carnal person. The carnal person—that’s all there is to it.
That’s why in the 8th chapter of Romans, you see it say, “The carnal mind is at enmity with God.” To be carnally minded is death. Right? So, the mind, which fundamentally thinks in terms of food and clothing and raiment, that person is in bondage to mammon and a good way for us to tell what we are in bondage to is to find out what we give our prime time to. If we give our prime time to mammon, maybe we had better own up to where we are. [43:56]
“Which of you by taking thought can add a cubic to his stature . . . “ (Matthew 6:27) He goes on to discuss how helpless we are in the face of mammon that really, there is very little that we can do with it and he concludes in verse 31 saying, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?”
Now, again I say, the test is how much of your time you give to thinking about those questions. I’m not talking, by the way about you planning your menu. That’s not what it’s talking about. If that’s all you do, it’s talking about you but He’s not saying don’t even think about whether you put the beans on the stove, right? He’s talking about you being obsessed with thoughts of food and clothing and that sort of stuff. If that’s what’s uppermost in your mind, take no thought of that in the sense of making this a serious matter of wonderment and doubt. Don’t run your life in terms of that. If you determine your life by these questions, then you are in bondage to mammon and you are in broiled in a complexity, which will wear you down and wear you out. [45:14]
Here is the remedy—Matthew 6:33—“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”—shall come along. You are going to eat. You are gonna have clothes. You are gonna have what you need. Now, this is the Christian’s charter of the simple life. Let me add to it a word from 1 Timothy 6:8—a very simple little verse—and please cross reference it to the Matthew 6 passage, would you? “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” You got food. You got clothing. That’s enough! That’s enough!
Godliness, He says—just before that—“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” (1 Timothy 6:6-7) [46:39]
Maybe just one more passage here before I go on to some remarks now about them. Hebrews 13. Hebrews 13, I believe it is 13:5, yes. “Let your conversation be without covetousness . . .”—that is, don’t spend your time thinking, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had all these things I don’t have’—“and be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
Now, this verse has the great advantage of revealing the root of much of our quest for goods. It is the effort to secure ourselves—the effort to secure ourselves—and this verse, Hebrews 13:6, “I will not fear what man shall do unto me. The Lord is my helper. I will not fear.” [47:56]
Once that message sinks in, we stop being concerned with many things. It is so easy to give things power over us. It is so easy to become dependent on many things and to have many things dependent on us but back of all of that, if it is filled with anxiety and concern that complicates our minds and does not allow us to simplify our lives—back of all of that is the desire to control—the desire to manipulate—the desire to secure ourselves and not be vulnerable in the hands of God. And so we dress to impress. We drive to impress. We accumulate to impress, to secure, and to make sure that we are in control. [48:53]
Sometimes we have shocking experiences that occur to us that teach us how little worth our possessions and projects usually are—a house burns down, a heart attack, a nearly fatal disease, a retirement, a divorce, a child commits suicide—and these things all of a sudden shock us into an understanding of how little worth there is in the things which we so hotly pursue—day to day to day to day—and they force us back to a recognition of the things that are nourishing and right, things of simple integrity, the simple enjoyment of the qualities which God has placed in our bodies and our minds and our environment—the things which He placed there for our good.
God never intended that people bare the burdens that they try to bare and there is nowhere this is more true than in religion. Nowhere is this more true than in religion. [50:22]
I was taken in early in my religious life by some talk about “burning out for God—burning out for God.” And it has a good ring to it but let me tell you that if you burn out for God, that’s probably because you haven’t been getting your spiritual bearings greased in the right way and you’ve been putting too much pressure on where there shouldn’t have been pressure. And there is some kind of problem there with understanding what one’s place is before God.
It is not of faith to work ourselves to death and to try to do the work of other people. God never intended that a few people should go around healing everybody and converting everybody and doing all of the work. He intended that that work should be shared evenly—that everyone should do it. We are all to be priests and Kings unto God. We do have some difference in role but the ideal situation is not to have one or two or three very powerful people doing the work but to have a powerful community through which the work is done without any necessary suggestion as to who is doing it other than God Himself. That is the ministry of the unified church and too often, they great flights of effort that we see are really exercises in self-righteousness and desperation and they often end very badly and if they don’t end very badly, they have the bad effect of depriving the mass of Christians of the challenge to exercise the responsibility to minister the Kingdom of God where they are to those around them. [52:29]
I wish I had time to develop adequately this whole concept of delegation. I could take you through Abraham, through Jesus, through the disciples, through Paul and show you how that in all of these cases, there was an expression of faith, which brought others into the work.
If you have time when you go home, read the 24th chapter of Genesis and see this beautiful story of Abraham and his servant, Eliezer. Abraham was old and he grew near his end and Eliezer, his servant was brought to his bedside and Abraham made him swear that he would go back to the home of his kinsman to bring a wife for his son Isaac. [53:27]
What is interesting to see is Eliezer’s complete bafflement as to how this is going to work but on the other side, Abraham just told him, “Go, and God will be with you. Go and God will be with you.” Read the story carefully and see how Eliezer had no idea what was going to happen and finally he got to the place where he was going and he did a desperation. He said, “Lord, I got to do something. I tell you what I’ll do. The women that come out to draw from the well, I will say to them, ‘Give me to drink of your water,’ and the one who is the right one, she will say, ‘Sure, have a drink and I’ll get water for your camels too.’ ” Actually, that was a pretty good test. You can’t go wrong with a woman like that. [Laughter] But, the marvelous thing is to me how Abraham knew and could say to Eliezer with an absolute confidence, “Just go. God will meet you.”
You see that’s what we have to learn to do as we learn to live in the Kingdom of God. If we would minster in simplicity is we have to believe that God can work in other people and will work in other people besides us. [55:02]
When someone comes to me often and says, “Will you pray for such and such?” I say, “Let’s talk about it, okay?” So, we sit down and talk about it and then I say, “Now, why don’t you do this!” And normally, it is a shock to them because they think, “Well, I mean, you are supposed to do that, aren’t you? I am not.” They are supposed to do that and they can do it. They will have to grow into it, but the delegation of responsibility in faith is the key to simplicity in the service of God and if you miss it, you are shot.
You will have one or two people running around that you pay and you call them ministers and they will run their heads off and maybe run themselves into the grave or the psychiatrist couch but if they do not have the wisdom to turn and get you to doing the work, they will have a life that is so distracted, simplicity will fail them and they will not be able to pull their lives together before God and live in His strength because they will just be so distracted and torn apart that their very faith itself will die and they will just live in a frenzy of desperation and self righteous activity. See, we mustn’t project the image of the big person on our ministers. If our minsters are ministers of God, it is not because they are big. [56:42]
It isn’t because they have degrees. It isn’t because they have a tongue that can run like a machine gun. If they are ministers of God, it is because God is in them. We mustn’t put the big man, big woman syndrome on them. We must understand them to be simply meek fellow servants before the Lord.
Now, very quickly—a practical point or two—one about silence and one or two about simplicity. First—about silence. What I wanted to say to you is this about silence. If you want to engage in a discipline that will help you get control of your tongue, settle on this policy. Settle on the policy that when you make a mess with your tongue, you always go back and confess it and straighten it out. Just adopt that as a policy. You will find your tongue becoming more and more under control. [57:52]
Just take it as a discipline to go back and straighten it out. If you lie to someone, go back and tell them you lied to them. If you have gossiped about someone, go to the person you gossiped to and confess it to them. I would urge you not to confess it to the person you gossiped about. Okay? [Laughter] No, I really would. I mean, unless there is really some reason, don’t bother them. But, you did talk to the person. You gossiped to the person. Go back to them and say, “You know I really feel badly about what I said.” If you commit violence on them with your tongue, go back and ask their forgiveness. You will find that it just does wonders for straightening that beast out in your mouth.
Now, another thing—practical matters on simplicity. The important thing about simplicity for most of us here is learning to say, “No” to the various kinds of things that offer to involve us. I am not just talking about religious and social commitments but for example, debts.
One of the things that complicates the life of the ordinary American citizen today is debt—just plain debt. And many times, this debt is incurred not for a good reason; sometimes it is, and I am not coming out against debt. I am not against debt in general but much of the debt that burdens the lives of individuals in our churches and in our society today is debt that results from ill-advised giving in to some blandishment.
We all, to some extent fall under the category of what Dublin called “the conspicuous consumer.” Much of our consuming is done because it is conspicuous and in order to be conspicuous or because of the way it looks, we have to recognize this as a part of what John called “the world.” It is the pride of the eye; so we just have to learn to say “no” to these kinds of things. [1:00:17]
One of the things that will help us is for us to sit down twice every year, at least and use our solitude to collect ourselves and ask ourselves how many things that we are involved in, how many things that we are involved in are really necessary. How many things? And to simply, drop the things that aren’t. [1:00:40]
Here is a clue. If you find yourself keeping in with something because of what people will say if you don’t, probably you should drop that. You are acting out of the fear of man. [1:00:54]