Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear . . . (James 1:19).
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 19:20).
I thought of these two passages recently while reading The Boys, a memoir by Ron and Clint Howard. You remember Ron, surely. He played little Opie on television’s Andy Griffith show (ok, some of you aren’t old enough to remember that show – look up an episode on YouTube).
Ron began playing Opie when he was just shy of six years old. I always liked that show (still do). In fact, some years ago a friend and I were at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures with an afternoon free. I said: “Let’s find that pond that opens the Andy Griffith show.” So we looked it up and drove over to Franklin Canyon Park in (believe it or not) Beverly Hills.
Early in the first year, the script required Opie to deliver a particular line to Andy. Before shooting, little inexperienced Ron raised his hand to ask a question. When called on, he said he didn’t think his line sounded “kid-like.” Everybody stopped. Director Bob Sweeny said: “How do you think a child would say it?” Ron replied and Sweeny said: “Good. I like it. Say it that way instead.”
The whole thing was (obviously) memorable for Ron. He writes: “My appreciation for how seriously I was taken, as a human being with ideas and agency . . . has only deepened with time.”
Not all of “Opie’s” suggestions were taken in the years following, but he felt “listened to” and valued. Everyone, including a child, deserves to feel heard. God’s people, in honoring one another, must work to affirm the value of others by listening to one another. The wise person understands you never know when a good idea might crop up, or who it might crop up from!
Most folks focus on the last six verses of James 5, wondering about the anointing with oil for the sick, but I believe we’d do well to spend more time on the first 12 verses.
I find it more than of a little interest that James would address Christians and accuse them of living in self-indulgence and murder. But perhaps he wasn’t speaking of Christians. Perhaps he was speaking of those the Christians wanted to be among their number. After all, earlier he condemned the practice of favoritism toward rich, giving them seats of honor and displacing the poor in their assemblies. Either way, James is adamant about the dangers of wealth and the kind of lifestyle it affords – especially the tendency to step on the weak in an effort to get one’s way.
And then there is the matter of patience.
The church is the community of the recuperating, all attempting to recover the lost image of God He intended us to display. There is ever present the despair of failure in our own lives, and the lives of those we count on. But the call is to patience and perseverance. God is working. He will bring about in His own time the results he wants. Until then, we look to His compassion and mercy.
In now over 40 years as a minister, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard folks discuss whether we ought to anoint the sick with oil. Seldom has anyone come to discuss with me the lack of patience and perseverance in church life. Please note that oil serves no function in healing in this passage. It is the prayer of faith that saves the sick.
Seeing with right values, hanging in and hanging on, a healthy prayer life and an eager expectation of the Lord’s return: these are more important than oil.
There is an old children’s taunt that goes: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” My mother taught it to me. She was trying to get me to see that words are just words and I shouldn’t let what people say bother me.
The problem was: it didn’t work.
And even if it did work, the saying could not but make me a worse person.
After all, if my perception is that words can’t hurt, I’ll never learn to be cautious about my own words toward others. They are only words after all.
But that’s the problem. Words are more than “just” words.
They can trap us (Proverbs 6:2). They can be deceptive, leading the unsuspecting into danger (Proverbs 7:21), piercing them like a sword (Proverbs 12:18). They stir the emotions of others – sometimes provoking them to do evil.
Our speech betrays the kind of person we really are. That can be a bad thing. But it can also be good. By reflecting on our speech, we can examine ourselves to see the true condition of our hearts, the impact of our culture on our lives, and begin to do something about it. In the matter of spiritual discipline, conforming our lives to the image of Jesus, there may be no better place to start than with our speech.