The Apocrypha in Lent – 14 March

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

14 March. Ecclesiasticus chapters 19-22

A lot of the proverbs in today’s passages concern speech – when to speak and when not, what sort of words to use, the use of different language in different situations.  To quote just a few of them (there are many more) –

“By hating gossip a man avoids evil. Never repeat what you are told, and you will come to no harm” (19:6-7)

“There is a rebuke that is untimely, and there is a man who keeps quiet, and he is the shrewd one” (20:1)

“A wise man will keep quiet till the right moment, but a garrulous fool will always misjudge it” (20:7)

“When a godless man curses his enemy, he is cursing himself; the scandal-monger sullies himself and earns the hatred of the neighbourhood” (21:27-28)

“Insult, arrogance, betrayal of secrets, and the stab in the back: in these cases any friend will run away” (22:22).

From these and many other sayings we can realise that what we say, and equally important the thoughts that we keep to ourselves, are what define our character, both among other people and in the eyes of God.  To think carefully before you speak, to say only words that build up other people and our relationships with them, and nothing negative except where it is really in their best interests: that is and always has been received wisdom.  But it is one of the hardest things to put into practice.  The New Testament realises this too:

For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” (James 3:2-6).

But the strongest condemnation in this passage from Ecclesiasticus is reserved for liars: “Lying is an ugly blot on a man, and ever on the lips of the ignorant. A thief is preferable to an inveterate liar, but both are heading for ruin” (20:24-25).  Why? Because while we may disagree with someone’s opinion, think them mistaken in their facts, be insulted by their words, or consider them uncultured in their use of language, as long as we think they are telling true facts and expressing honest opinions we can still do business with them.  But as soon as someone is known as a liar, especially an “inveterate liar”, then we do not know what to make of what they say.

People have mixed motives for lying. Often it is for personal gain, or thinking to impress others. That is often seen in politics. Sometimes it is for a quick way out of a difficult situation, but that is often a case of digging oneself further into a hole – small lies have to be backed up by bigger ones. I think of someone I used to know,  who lost his job the third time he told his employer he could not work that day because his grandmother had died (think about it).

But sometimes motives are difficult to fathom – I think of someone else I knew, whose “true stories” often stretched credibility. But when she assured me that a certain mutual acquaintance was having an affair – an upright professional man recently married to his beautiful and devoted girlfriend – I stopped even trying to believe.  What was her motive in that?  Was she trying to break up my friendship with this other couple?  She only succeeded in persuading me to drop my friendship with her.

So try always to be truthful, honest, positive, and to refrain from gossip and unfounded criticism.  Avoid lies like the plague.  You will fail – I fail -we all do, sometimes.  But the closer we get to that ideal, the better our lives, and our friendships, will be.



The Bible in a Year – 7 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

7 October. James chapters 1-5

Today we move from the Old to the New Testament. This is going to be difficult, because all its books are so richly packed with history, stories, or religious teaching, that I cannot do justice to the whole of even one chapter, let alone several, in a few hundred words.  So I will be very selective in which passages I comment on.

The choice by those who put this reading plan together of James as the first of its books to read is interesting, as Paul’s letters are usually thought to be earlier.  There are a few things that make this letter distinctive: it makes no reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus, which are central to Christian thought; it is clearly addressed to Jewish rather than Gentile readers, with frequent references to characters from the Old Testament; and while exhorting the reader to have faith in Jesus, it stresses the importance of ‘doing the Word’ (that is, putting into practice the religious and ethical teaching that we receive), and the role of ‘works’ (ethically correct actions) in salvation, whereas Paul’s several letters insist that however good our ‘works’ it is faith in Jesus alone that saves us.  But it is good to have a balance of those views in our approach to Christian living.

Out of James’s many practical teachings, all of them with vivid illustrations, I will take that of speech (James 3:1-12). He compares the mouth to a spring, which may be brackish or fresh water, but not both; even a small amount of salt in it will make the clean water undrinkable. He also compares it to trees that can only produce one kind of fruit.  So it is that we cannot expect anyone whose words are ever harmful – cursing or judging others, or boasting (4:13-17) – to be a blessing to others.  All our speech must be good and wholesome if we are to be effective disciples of Christ.


The Bible in a Year. 29 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and also my introduction to the Proverbs.

29 July. Proverbs chapters 10-12

These chapters are headed “the proverbs of Solomon”.  They consist of a large number of pithy sayings, nearly all of which consist of a single couplet contrasting good and bad behaviour or attitudes.  These are what are more commonly understood as “proverbs” than some of the earlier material.


It’s difficult to pick any one out for examination, as any of them are worth pondering for a minute or two, but one of the more common themes in these sayings in the use of words. Let’s look at a few of them:


“Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool. / When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech. / The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth. / The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” (10:18-21)   “Whoever belittles another lacks sense, but an intelligent person remains silent. A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.” (11:12-13)  “The words of the wicked are a deadly ambush, but the speech of the upright delivers them.” (12:6)


The good or wise person, then, is urged to keep words to a minimum and keep confidences, unlike the fool (unwise person) who talks more than they should, gives secrets away, criticises other people and tells lies. This, like much in the Proverbs, is timeless good advice that serves us equally well today.