Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Teaching of Kindness is on her Tongue...

Proverbs 31:10-31 is a passage that is often recited as the quintessential description of a godly woman. And who can argue? If I could live up to half of it, I would be happy. The thing that I find interesting is that this is not a woman who is quietly living at home, without making a ripple in her society. She is not holed up in the house, attending to vacuuming the carpets and making the beds and then just spending the rest of the day reading, daydreaming or worrying, avoiding the "worldliness" that might attack her the minute she goes out the front door...no, she is out there making contact with people, doing business, being productive, interactive, energetic, joyful. She seems like a very modern person--which indicates that this description is beautifully timeless, when you consider that it was written thousands of years ago.
Until she expresses herself, you might think that the Proverbs woman is just any modern-day working woman, making money to support the family and being very much "liberated" and not bound up in old-fashioned thinking. But wait...there's more! There is an ancient source of thought that is her source of motivation, and that is her faith in God. She is not doing this work out of anxiety or obligation; she smiles at the future. What is there in the future to smile about? Is it merely that she trusts in her own preparations? Not in the least. When she opens her mouth, "she opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." This is evidence of her faith, of her hope in God, if nothing else is. The words that pour forth from her are wise, and they are kind. Kindness doesn't come from a vacuum, it comes from the work of the Holy Spirit actively working in one's heart. As our pastor's wife Kit pointed out, there is a difference between being kind and being nice; kindness is the true fruit of the Spirit, and niceness can be the world's substitute, its counterfeit, for kindness, because niceness doesn't come from goodness in the heart so much as for a desire for friendly interaction. (I maintain that there's nothing wrong with being nice, as long as it doesn't exclude being kind and gentle. Not that I have obtained this...read on...)
My pondering of Proverbs 31 didn't come just out of nowhere. I have been pondering how kind I am, and found myself miserably wanting. "The teaching of kindness is on her tongue" came to mind while I was mourning my recent lack of kindness. There are times, especially in relating to my family, when my words or actions could not be described as kind. I sometimes attempt to justify this in my own mind with the ways that I was provoked into unkindness, a justification that doesn't work since Jesus says to "turn the other cheek"--and yet, that is probably my worst area of failure regarding being kind. But God, being rich in mercy, recently taught me that it doesn't take any flaw on the other person's part for me to be unkind. It only takes a teaspoon of pride for me to fall into this nastiness. It doesn't take a person provoking me. It doesn't take a person embarrassing me. It doesn't take anything but my deceptive and prideful heart. 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, "If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." Now, I can't imagine a person surrendering their body to be burned except in a most amazing expression of love. How would that happen? So a person can come close to appearing loving (if only in their own mind), but still miss the mark. Earlier in the chapter, in 13:1, it says that "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." A noisy gong or a clanging cymbal are two sources of irritating, interrupting impact. Hardly the goal of love.
So here, pondering the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." There is no law against them. Having a law against the fruit of the Spirit would be like my telling a family member that they must not help with the housework, when they are physically healthy and able. There is no law against doing what is good and helpful. What is wrong with my spiritual fruit tree if it is missing some of the fruit? If the fruit is there, but tiny and undeveloped, why is that? What can I do to change it? How can I become more kind, more gentle? I need to guard my tongue. I need to pray for God's help. I need to practice kindness and gentleness, being diligent to present myself approved to God. I need to rely on God, and go forth and work it out myself as well. I need to watch against my own pride that not only acts against others' lack but in its own little nasty self-seeking world. I need to not make excuses when I fail. I'm thankful that God gently points out my flaws rather than taking me out of this world in my least appealing moments.
James 3:1-19 (New American Standard Bible)
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

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