"For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. "
I find it interesting what the Scriptures define as "perfect". Or maybe I should say I find it interesting how ready WE are to accept our own preconceived notions of what words mean. It doesn't take much digging to really understand the Scriptures. To reference 3:1, I think the way we who teach will be strictly judged is when we fail to really dig. And there is a greater responsibility in this technological age because we have so much more good scholarship available to us than even one generation ago.
When I was just starting out as a Christian I remember sitting in the living room of the leader of a Bible study I was attending. They pulled out several books they were using to do research. What they produced proved to be a huge breakthrough for me in Biblical understanding. That day I took the brochure for Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and DROVE from Connecticut to Delaware in order to get to a Christian book warehouse where I could purchase Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich's Lexicon of Greek Words, a greek New Testament, and a newly published book that was a New Testament keyed to 4 or 5 of these study texts. I was set. It all cost me probably $200 in 1977 money. Today, if you purchase a $20 copy of the ESV Bible you get a free link to Bible software that does everything I just shared and about five times more. So we have no excuse for not understanding biblical language. I STILL don't read or understand much Greek or Hebrew. And I'm a pastor.
Okay, back to the text. The word being used here for "perfect" is teleios, which is often referenced as the root word for what Jesus said as he hung on the cross: "It is finished" -- teleo. The word bears the connotation of fullness or completeness, not so much the idea of perfection the way you and I might think of it. Here in James it is probably more accurate to say that if someone doesn't stumble in what he says he is "mature" (think of corn when it is ready to pick).
For years I had a problem. It was tied to personal insecurity and immaturity. In personal discussion or when meeting new people I would become so inwardly nervous about how I was to be viewed that I would end up saying outrageous things. I once told a bartender he was ugly because I was nervous about how to impress the girl was with. What a geek, you say. Perhaps, but the real problem was that I hadn't learned how to bridle my tongue. That was never a problem in my teaching of Scripture. THERE I was confident. THERE I knew who I was. You know... the only place I still revert to that kind of unbridled talk is when I'm on AIM chatting with people. What a great leveler of people IM is! We ALL become jerks on instant message.
Paul says to Timothy "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness." What is maturity if not knowing what to say and when to say it? Tim Keller has a whole audio series out on Wisdom, mostly using materials from Proverbs. I recommend it highly. You can find it at www.redeemer.com. Keller defines wisdom as "competence with respect to the 80% of life where the rules don't apply." It isn't in the exegesis of Scripture that we falter first. It is in the exegesis of our LIFE that we get it wrong. We don't rightly interpret the mysteries of God as displayed in our own being and so we misread the signals. We know we want food, so we become gluttons. We enjoy a drink with our friends and so become drunkards in the name of "fun". Our body is telling us we want sex and so we elevate that impulse to the highest place in our life and become addicted to our impulses in all sorts of ways. And we let our tongue have free reign in our life because we think we're simply being "direct". And I'm not talking about unbelievers here. I'm talking about what whores we are as Christians with respect to Him who is the lover of our souls.
When will we become mature? The world is dying for a church filled with people whose first love really IS Jesus.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.