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Whispers and Flames

Whispers and Flames

Fire scares me; it has for as long as I can remember. For most of my life I refused to light a match unless it was one of those 10″ fireplace matches. Only during the last five years or so have I learned how to strike a match from a matchbook by folding over the cover for protection between my fingers and the flame. I hate lighting propane grills because I’m convinced one day a mushroom cloud blast will blow up in my face.

When I was in junior high, my best friend–at the time–pushed me into a fairly large fire pit. I was standing with my back to the fire and he thought it would be fun to see my reaction. Though I hopped out quickly–unharmed–I was hopping mad.

Yet in spite of a few bad experiences and for whatever inbred fear I have toward fire, fire still fascinates me. I am a man, after all, and men and fire are meant for each other. We’re supposed to know how to build a fire, even starting a fire by rubbing our bare hands together in the pouring rain if we need to. And the biggest reason we need fire is so that we can cook our red meat over that fire.

Some Christians are very comfortable around fire, and I’m not thinking of the pyromamiancs among us. I’m thinking about those who are comfortable, not with actual, physical fire, but with the fire of of gossip, slander, and drama. Fire is a terrific image of fighting and bickering and rumors and squabbles and scandals. Fire is an especially apropos illustration of drama.

A recent, growing and glowing, trend of drama disturbs me. Though it always crouches at the door ready to rule us (think Genesis 4:7), I have witnessed drama eating up more hearts and more talk and more time the last couple months than is right (or necessary) for Spirit-filled Christians, or at least those who make that claim.

What I mean by drama is acting and performing or speaking in a way to get a reaction, to make a scene, to get a rise out of someone by exaggerating the situation. Drama often takes place openly and publicly, but the primary stage for the drama I’m considering is found in private conversations and secluded lunch tables and instant messages and Facebook walls. Drama takes something true and exaggerates for effect, or perhaps takes something presumed true or even untrue and gives it a life of it’s own. Whether a main character, a supporting actor, or a stagehand, participation in this kind of drama fans the fire.

Most of the drama I watch is petty, with conversations and chitchat and reactions characterized by excessive attention on trivial matters, especially with small-minded or spiteful attitudes. Pettiness is the art of living small, taking the unimportant and peripheral and blowing it out of proportion. Much of the petty drama is plain old gossip, casual conversation about other people with little constraint, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.

This trend burdens and bothers me so much that I decided to preach on “Whispers and Flames” from Proverbs 26:20-22. Over the next few days I want to blog through these verses in order to expose the dangers of whispering, to encourage control of our tongues in public and private, and to remind us all to stop the drama and extinguish the fire.

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Every Thumb's Width

Scoffer Sensitive Services

Off and on for the last twelve years or so I have been reading the “proverb of the day.” When I was in high school my youth pastor pointed out to me that there are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs which easily associate with the 31 days in most months (on the other months that are shorter than 31 days you just have to read a bunch of chapters on the last day!). Anyway, that seemed like a reasonable amount of reading to me–a chapter a day, and it also seemed like reasonable content to read since the proverbs are intended to give the “youth knowledge and discretion” (Pro. 1:4).

I am sure that in the future many days of weblog will be dominated by some verse in the “proverb of the day.” How about we make today the first?!

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
and quarreling and abuse will cease.
(Proverbs 22:10)

Perhaps at the first reading this seems like many proverbs – a short statement of observation on the way things typically go. I think all of us have experienced this. We’ve been part of some class or team or group or club or neighborhood or ministry that had a scoffer (or more than one) in it. Never content to scoff alone, the scoffer freely shares his disdain for the leader or the program or the material or whatever with any who would hear his preaching. And there is always widespread relief when providence relocates the scoffer to another location, the further away the greater the relief!

But the verb “drive out” is a piel imperative, (the Hebrew piel tense is an intensifying form; the imperative obviously demands our response). Therefore, this proverb is more than simply a statement about the peace that comes when scoffers quietly disappear on their own. Instead, wisdom calls us to take an active position against scoffers. We are to chase out, banish, deport, reject, show the way out, turn away, discharge, disregard, expel, leave out, remove, etc., those who mock and deride and belittle and ridicule. For us to have peace among our families and our churches and our social circles, the scoffers must be scooted out!

Now, the immediate objection that some sensitive person will naturally raise is, “That is not a loving response. That is not gracious. That is not kind or patient or long-suffering.” And this is a reasonable, if not entirely biblical concern. We should examine all that we do in relation to scoffers. There is a priority on love (Matthew 5:43-47; 22; 39; John 13:34; Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:2; 5:2; Colossians 3:14; etc.). There is great need for us to avoid anger and bitterness and all of the other sins that so easily respond to those that attack us or others around us.

But if this proverb is right (and since it is inspired it must be), and if this proverb reveals the wise way (and since it comes from Wisdom is must be), then we must at least admit that there are times when we must actively, proactively seek to see the scoffers leave. We are not to have “scoffer sensitive” worship music and small groups and messages. Those who complain and cause division and stir up strife are to be warned, and warned again, but if their antagonism continues we are to “have nothing more to do” with them (Titus 3:10). We are to drive them out.

At stake is the unity of the body, the purity of the body, and the honor of our group as it reflects the honor of God. As the mocker is forced out so the fighting and bickering and feuding and quarreling will go out. When ridiculers are rejected the stains of strife are cleansed away.