Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.
Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.
In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)
RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.
In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”
The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).
Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.
Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?
Three things come to mind in sequential order:
- Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
- Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
- Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.
The things we say to one another have a way of exposing the underlying operating system of our hearts (Matthew 12:34). So, what matters is not just the words we say but why we say them.
Taking James 4:13-17 too literally would lead to one prefacing everything or ending everything you say with “if the Lord wills…” To do so misses the whole point – it’s not about what you say so much as why you say what you say. It’s about the attitude of the heart that is the reason you think and speak as you do.
James 4:13-17 is all about us, setting the dials of our lives on humility, not arrogance. Living with a certain humility that comes from knowing who we are and how temporal and not in control, we are.
Who hasn’t spoken words similar to those in vs13?
- Next year I’m going to study at…
- Next month I’m moving to…
- I’m going to have three children…
- When I am married…
We don’t typically intend to be boastful when we speak like this, and yet if we are not careful these sorts of statements about the future and our future plans are devoid of a sense of;
- Reverence for God (Proverbs 9:10)
- Laying our lives & plans down in submission to God’s will (2 Cor 5:14)
- An awareness of our frailty & our transience (vs14)
- And our inability to control very much of what happens in our lives (vs14)
Jesus taught us to pray; ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6:9-10). This is how to set your life-dial on humility. To pray like this, think like this, live like this. To live surrendered to God, wanting to do His will not boastfully thinking and speaking about the future as if you’re in charge of your life but living your life in reverent worship of Him who is Lord of all.
So, set your life-dial on humility – don’t invite God into your plans for your life, but humbly, daily ask Him to show you His plans for your life.
In vs11-12, James comes back to the topic of the tongue and the way we speak to one another. Here James summarises; “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers & sisters.”
The church is a family, filled with real relationships; fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters in Christ. Those who come to faith in Jesus Christ get enfolded into a set of family relationships – is the language of the New Testament.
As a father of four children, and having been raised in a family of four siblings I know that siblings and families don’t always speak to one another according to the instruction of Ephesians 4:29! But we ought to. We ought to build one another up in love not speak evil destructive words over those God has put in closest proximity to us.
We didn’t choose our earthly siblings, but we are joined together for life. Similarly, we don’t choose our heavenly, but we are joined together for eternity. And our Father, much like any parent, desires that we use our tongues to build one another up and not tear one another down.
God’s Word in the OT denounced things like slander & gossip (see Leviticus 19:16; Psalm 50:20 & Jeremiah 6:28), and such instructions are repeated for the believer in the NT (Romans 1:30; 2 Corinthians 12:20 & 1 Peter 2:1).
So, to ignore God’s revealed will by speaking slander to one another is to rubbish God’s law (vs11) or to place oneself over and above the law setting yourself up as the judge of what is right and wrong.
And that’s not wise, James says; since there is only ‘one lawgiver and judge’ (vs12). So to speak evil/slander against brothers and sisters & or to judge others (Matthew 7:1–5) break’s both God’s law and shows contempt for God who is the only judge.
We are the family of God. Our Father’s will is clear – that we love one another, with our words and our actions. May we all remain vigilant to build one another up and not speak evil against each other, knowing that in the church, the other person is a beloved child of our Father who is in heaven too.
- Do an audit of your week and your conversations – how are you doing?
- Is there anything you need to repent of, make right?
- How can you be more vigilant going forward?
From James 3:1-5 we know that the tongue is like the ‘master’ key to a Holy life. It is the one member of our bodies which has a significant x-factor! It can direct our lives just like a rudder or bridle can a ship or horse – so the tongue is supremely significant.
Even more so, because of its tremendous capacity for destruction and because of it’s resistance to restraint. The tongue in James 3:6-12 is likened to a fire, a spark that can set the whole of our lives on fire and it is compared to an untamable creature, full of deadly poison.
James’ descriptions of our tongue should shake us awake, alert us to the danger of underestimating this little member of the body. Our words, can and do start unholy fires. Untamed, our tongue is ‘a world of unrighteousness’ within us.
So can it be tamed? Humanly speaking, James says; ‘No way!’ “…but no human being can tame the tongue.” (James 3:8) We can tame tigers, falcons & snakes, “but the tongue It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8)
But if the tongue can’t be tamed then what’s the use of warning us about its power for destruction if we can’t do anything to stop it?
James doesn’t say anything more on this question. He may feel that the hint is plain enough. That although we can’t humanly tame the tongue, tame it on our own, he knows that there was a day on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2–4) there came a different fire from heaven to spark new fires in those gathered and to fill them with the very power they needed to have victory in life!
So, draw on the Holy Spirit’s help. Ask God to fill you again and to change you from the inside out, ask the Holy Spirit to help you get your tongue under the control of His power.
So that you won’t be like those who with their tongues bless God and with the same tongues curse the very men and women God made in his image! Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in becoming consistent throughout your life, having no hypocrisy or inconsistency but being godly through and through.
Take time now to ask for the help of the Helper of heaven – the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes it’s the little things that have a large impact.
Consider the rudder on a mighty container ship designed to cross the oceans carrying millions on tons of cargo, powered by motors with many thousands of horsepower — all of it directed by a comparatively small rudder at the back of the ship.
The tongue, James says is like the rudder of that great ship. Although it is little, it has a large and significant impact on our lives and the lives of others. Elsewhere Proverbs 18:21 declares that; “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Who hasn’t known at times both the stinging destructive power of words spoken to us & or the healing, inspiring, uplifting power of words by those significant to us?
Who hasn’t spoken words in haste, only seconds later to wish that your lips had remained sealed or wishing you could somehow erase those words from the record or someone’s memory?
The tongue is a powerful force in our lives and the lives of others, and so we need to be careful with our tongues. And if like me there are far too many times when you haven’t been careful with your tongue, know this, that you’re not alone since James says; “We all stumble in many ways” – since no one is perfect (James 3:2). So repent, and ask God to help you to keep this powerful member of your body under tight control.
And let’s take the counsel of Ephesians 4:29 seriously when it says; “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (in NIV translation)
When it comes to our speech, this a great goal to aim for in all our speech – building others up. So ask is what I want to say helpful for building this person up?
Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you back through conversations you have engaged in over the past week. Have those built the other person up? Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of any sin so that you can repent and God can forgive you. And because the tongue is so immensely powerful, determine to use it today for good, to build people up in their faith and in the love of God!