As in August the lectionary brought us bread, so in September, it brings us speech. Many of these weeks highlight the ethical and theological meaning of our use of language. This week focuses especially on what it means to teach.
All except the psalm strike fear and trembling into my own heart. Here I am writing a meditation called “Teach Us to Pray,” and James comes out of the gate with this: “Not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). Peter speaks an inspired insight, only to turn around and be called “Satan” by Jesus himself. Isaiah (and Christ by allegory) actually succeeds in hearing and speaking truth, only to be abused and insulted for it. Jesus teaches life through self-denial and death.
We must be taught before we teach. We must be silent before we speak. Even Jesus commands the disciples’ silence despite the truth of Peter’s confession. They still needed time. We must trust that “morning by morning, [God] wakens—wakens my ear to listen” (Isaiah 50:4). Then we can learn what this gift of speech is actually for: “to sustain the weary with a word” (Isaiah 50:4), to “call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:3), to “bless the Lord and Father” and “those who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). Part of what it means to “deny ourselves” is to lay aside the opinions we so preciously cherish and share. To have the tongue of a teacher does not mean to command, instruct, or import ideas; it means to speak life to others.
As recommended a couple weeks ago, spend more time in silence this week. Take the first portion of every morning and simply listen. God wants to open your ears and challenge your assumptions. He wants to make your tongue a tool for blessing.