Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.—James 3:1,2
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.—Proverbs 10:19
Since coming to Community Church, I am now doing something I said for a long time I would never do: blogging. Each week I write this article and put it up on my website for the whole world to read. Once it goes out there, I can’t take it back. It’s a sobering thought.
A few years ago I wrote a book, and when I was trying to break into the world of Christian publishing, all the experts said the same thing: You need to start blogging. You need to write and write and write, produce tons of content, so that more and more people will read your stuff, and when you publish, you’ll have a ready-made audience.
For a long time, though, I resisted. To me, blogging felt like the opposite of writing a book. When you write a book, you re-write and re-write over and over again, you edit, and re-edit, you ask others for feedback, you refine and polish your manuscript until you’re absolutely sure it’s the best it can be. Blogging, on the other hand, seems to have been invented by someone who thought “everything I have to say is brilliant, and the world should consider itself privileged to read whatever unfiltered nonsense comes out of my head.” When it first became popular, I mocked it. It’s not real writing, I said. Everyone thinks they’re a writer now, I said. Just because you can type and set up a website doesn’t mean you have something to say, I said. And now here I am doing it.
I’m doing it even though it goes against everything I was taught about how to write. When I took honors English from Mr. Ready at Lassen High, we would do these exercises where he would make us write an 200-word article, and then go back and cut it down to 100 words, and then cut it down to 50 words, and then cut it down to 25 words. When you got it down to 25 words, you would look back and realize that much of your original article was fluff. It was filler words that didn’t add anything to the meaning of what you had to say. It was a great exercise that I think has applications to many areas of life. Are these words I’m about to say, or write, really necessary? Do they add anything positive to the world?
Still, I’m blogging now. This church already had the tradition of a weekly column from the pastor, sent out to the congregation, and I really like that idea. And it wasn’t that much more work to set up the website and share it on Facebook, so friends in other parts of the country could read it. And maybe in the back of my mind there was the tiny hope that someday the right person with connections in the publishing industry will stumble on it, and…who knows? Aspiring writers never completely let go of foolish hopes like that.
But that doesn’t mean I feel any differently about blogging. I still think it’s inherently dangerous. Solomon said in Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, sin is not absent.” The more often you open your mouth (or sit down to your keyboard), the more you increase the chances that at some point you’re going to say something wrong, or hurtful, or sinful, or misleading, or embarrassing. It’s a reality I’m already deeply aware of because I preach a sermon every Sunday. Signing up to produce an additional public message each week, and one that I often don’t have much time to edit, seems a little bit like playing with fire.
In fact, that’s exactly what it is. In James chapter 3, James says that not many people should presume to be teachers, because teachers are judged more strictly. Yikes. When you presume to teach the Bible, in effect to speak for God, you sign up to be held to a higher standard. Then he says that the only person who is never at fault in what they say is a perfect person. We all stumble in many ways, and especially in this way. If you open your mouth, at some point you will put your foot in it. If you put those statements together, this means that all Bible teachers, who speak for God, who are held to a higher standard, will at some point say the wrong thing and misrepresent God, embarrass themselves, and hurt or mislead others. Great!
James then goes on, in a fairly well-known passage, to talk about how our tongue is like a small spark that can set a forest ablaze. It’s like a rudder that steers a ship or a bit that turns a horse. Our words have incredible power to do damage in our own lives and the lives of others, so wise people manage their words carefully.
What does this mean? It means we don’t go around assuming that every word that comes out of our mouths is brilliant. It means we re-consider making that comment on social media. Is the world a better place if I put these words out there? (And maybe, while we’re at it, check it for spelling and grammar too? Just a thought). Just this morning, a member of our staff poked her head in my office and asked me to come read an email she was about to send, to make sure it wouldn’t be hurtful or offensive to the person receiving it. I was so proud of her. I have been the one to send the email that I later had to apologize for. It’s so much better to be humble before we hit “send” then to be humbled afterward. It’s almost always better to say too little than to say too much. He who holds his tongue is wise.
Of course, we can’t always hold our tongues. We can’t live without communication, in our homes and churches and schools and places of work. Someone has to preach the sermon (and, I guess, write the blog). But just as we handle a gun with care when we know it’s loaded, we would do well to remember the power at our disposal every time we open our mouths or put our fingers on the keys, and perhaps proceed with a little more caution.