As I mentioned when I started this series, my poor friend had to ask a guest to leave her home because the guest resorted to name calling when they didn’t like what someone said. Whether they took the words too much to heart, or they read in another meaning into the words that were said, or they didn’t like the tone… whichever it was, my friend set boundaries and decided that name calling was not going to be tolerated and immediately asked the offended person, who reacted poorly to her perception of events, to leave the gathering. It did escalate, but I’d like to stop you here to make my next point in the series, “Family Gatherings According to the Book of James.” You can read the first 2 from last week here and here.
There will be times where what you felt was a simple joke does not enter in the ears of everyone as funny. There WILL be times that you were misunderstood or heard from a specific lense the listener has been looking at you through. How we respond to that is key. The other person may not respond, but rather react in a negative way and the potential quarrel is teetering.
According to James, we should resist the devil who is squirming his way into ruining a conversation, a gathering, a day, or a relationship.
It may not be a light hearted joke, it could be a political opinion. It could be a falsely remembered memory. It could be the way a relative handles their children (or doesn’t). Whatever the case, our goal is to resist the devil who is coming to kill your fun, steal your joyous gathering, and destroy your relationship. Jesus is not glorified in the midst of quarrelling. So when the hint of an argument pops up, resist the urge to indulge. There are a few things that James points out that if not dealt with properly, can fuel the fire of drama.
- Controlling your tongue is the number one way to curb the disfunction and bring God glory in the midst of chaos. “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” (1:26) Our tongue isn’t easy to tame, but James tells us it’s important and gone untamed is powerful and dangerous. “And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (3:6) Holding your tongue and choosing words carefully is key to every interaction we have within family gatherings. And if we can do this one thing, the rest will be much easier.
- James 4:11 is another key to maintaining a peaceful gathering. Resist the urge to speak evil against each other or to criticize and judge. We all live our lives differently, and sometimes it’s obvious someone is making wrong choices for their lives. However, a family gathering is not a roast, or an intervention, or a bullying session. “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.” (5:9). We are all a work in progress. Our judgemental comments are not exempt from judgement from God anymore than Uncle’s lack of motivation to provide for his family (or whatever other ugly thing you feel needs to be said to him). Keep the devil away by choosing not to criticize or grumble about others.
- Since we’re discussing the harm our tongues can bring, let’s discuss the issue of Gossip. If you can tame your tongue and not criticize, tame it also to not indulge in gossip. What Auntie did last year that no one approved of, does not need to be discussed at a holiday gathering (or any other setting). Resist the gossip table, and watch Satan flee.
Many of these issues (grumbling about, criticizing, gossipping) come from a deep rooted jealousy issue. James confronts this “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?… You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war…” (4:1, 2) Something about jealousy causes people to fight for the higher position. They do this by making snide remarks, harsh joking, poking fun, or downright mean acts. James 3:14 is spot on when it says, “But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.” Be joyous for another person’s success, don’t let jealousy and selfish ambition (trying to look better) cause you to embellish, stretch or alter the truth. Learn to praise God for another’s success. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (1:17).
We aren’t going to be perfect at this. We just may think we’re saying something all in fun, and depending on your family, and the people you are gathering with, that may be perfectly fine. But if you cross that line (set by something one else, the one you didn’t even see there), be quick to apologize, as my friend did. Even if you didn’t see the offense in it, be sensitive and humble and respond in love. Decide that your relationship is far more important than being right, proving a point, or correcting someone’s faults.
Set boundaries for when someone else is NOT choosing relationships and is purposefully trying to sabotage your gathering. There is no reason to continue to let someone insult you, instigate fights, and try their best to cause divisions within the family. You are within you gracious rights to ask someone to leave who is not respectful and can not accept an apology but rather resorts to verbal (or physical) abuse. Your goal, as I’ve said before, is to glorify God while pointing those at the gathering towards Him. When someone refuses that, and can not keep from reacting in anger and is bent on ruining the family unity, you can RESPOND in love but still firmly ask them to leave for the greater good. Just remember steps 1-3 though after the person has left.
Controlling our tongue brings glory to God. Pray ahead of time when you know you’ll be gathering with those that you’ve had a hard time with in the past. Ask God to help you respond in a way that can bring peace and not chaos. Be mindful of those you are gathering with. If they are passionate about something you are against, maybe avoid that conversation. Ask God to guide your tongue and use it to build others up, make others laugh (but not at the expense of someone else), and point others to Christ. Silence is better than snide remarks.
Let laughter abound, you’ll enjoy the gathering, yourself, and your friends and family much more.