This is from a talk given to a chaplains group.
Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Since no one has used this verse, I thought I would! The verse talks about transformation through the life of the mind. Or maybe it is better to say the new life of the mind. For this verse follows the previous which references the mercies of God. We are not talking the power of positive thinking, or a mental exercise, but how God goes about making us over into the image of Christ.
I’d to talk about this with a few stories of how words can be transformative.
In high school I was not in the popular group, we called them “soshes”. I was not in the smoker group, the shop guys or the jocks. I was in a group of guys who ate lunch together every day at the same table in the cafeteria. We did not really do anything all that well except to insult each other. This is a rather common form of male humor. The point of which is not to be left without a response but to answer every sharp word-strike with a counter blow. I was pretty good at this.
All this time I was coming to terms with my faith. It was when I was a junior in high school that I prayed the prayer. I was at a Christian conference in Seattle, and while walking through he hallways of the basketball arena, I tried to imagined a conversation with Jesus. The thing that struck me was that I had nothing to say – Nothing at all. Something was wrong. The speaker gave an invitation to receive Christ. I took the chance.
Shortly after that I was reading in the book of Proverbs. I came to this verse Proverbs 10:11:
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence
Bam! The verse, more or less, reached out and slapped me across the face.
I realized that my mouth was a fountain of insults, not of life. So things started to change for my last year of high school. I discovered that I had been friends with these guys for years but did not know anything about them – one guy wanted to go into social work, another wanted to be a radio announcer. When I quit insulting them I came to see them as pretty interesting guys
The next year I was at the U of Washington and involved with Inter Varsity. At a conference we were supposed to use a paper bag to talk about what is the difference between what is on the inside and the outside. From years of insults I had learned to keep anything very important tucked deeply inside. As I recall the speaker was making a point from the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitude which says: Matthew 5:8
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
The idea here is not so much spotlessness, but that the out ward and the inward correspond. Blessed are those who are truly who they are on the inside and outside, who do not pretend to be something. This verse was added to the one before.
The book of James that has a lot to say about the tongue.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
The tongue has power, would I use mine for good or evil?
Now that I work along truck drivers and construction workers, I see the pattern of communication that I was very much a part of back in high school. I hope that by a few well spoken words, some of that also might be transformed.
A few years ago I began to get interested in Wisdom Literature in the Bible – these are books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job as well as certain literary forms such as parables and proverbs. I came across the passage in Proverbs 6 that talks about adultery. It dies not quote the 7th commandment. It paints a work picture: Pv 6:27
Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?
Wisdom Literature is like the music of revelation in another key signature. It does not work so much from commands, but with comparisons. It observes and puts things side by side for us to notice. The interesting thing is that it can get to some places where the Ten Commandments might not be well received – such as Progressive Madison. These words tell us that playing around sexually is playing with fire. These are a lot like James’ point that words themselves are playing with fire.
I believe in the transformative power of words. Not a flood of them. Not the same words for every audience. But in terms of another proverbs, words that are well crafted to the situation: Proverbs 25:11
A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
In our work we often only get a few words to share. I believe that these can be transformative, because I believe in the power of the word.