Through the Glass

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: ~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire:
~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Sometimes we need a shift in perspective.

Every preacher worth his salt, and probably many who aren’t, get asked questions frequently. One common question is in the form: Is it wrong to do X? People are not usually asking this in contemplation of murdering their neighbor or stealing his car. They ask, Is it wrong to play the lottery? Is it wrong to watch that movie? Is it wrong to listen to this music?

The questions are seldom of some theological import or about some passage they have been wrestling with to understand. They are usually not all that serious. The older I get, the more I esteem the wisdom of George Washington. He was not highly educated and had a keen sense of it. However, he was continually sought after for advice. Though he wrote some seventeen thousand letters in his lifetime, he seldom gave advice. He said that he had come to see that those who most sought advice least wanted it. Insightful.

I have found that many who ask the is-it-wrong questions are those who are going to do or continue to do what they’re doing regardless of anything you might have to say or show them from God’s Word. They just want a quick justification or affirmation. At best, they wait for your mouth to stop moving so they can say, “Yeah, but…”

A Better Question

Perhaps there is a better approach when dealing with more difficult questions. There is something to be said about circumstances. There is something to be said about strong and weak consciences. There is certainly something to be said about moderation, but maybe we should consider something else first.

One of the results of maturing in Christ is growing in discernment between things that are good and things that are evil (Hebrews 5:13-14). If you want to ask if something is wrong to do, let me first ask you some questions about your growth in wisdom.

  1. How committed are you to the regular reading and studying of God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; 119:9; Acts 17:11)?
  2. Are you in a sound church under the sound preaching and teaching of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; Hebrews 10:25)?
  3. Are you praying regularly for wisdom and seeking it tenaciously (James 1:5; Proverbs 2:1-5)?
  4. Do you have wise, godly companions who edify and encourage you in a good way (Hebrews 10:25; Proverbs 13:20)?
  5. Do you receive correction and instruction when it is given (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9)?

If you answer, No, to any of those questions, then asking if it’s wrong to wear a certain article of clothing or go to some event is the wrong question. You’re starting at the wrong place. If you’re not using any of the means of growing in wisdom that God has instructed and provided for us, then you’re probably not going to receive good counsel when it is given. You’re also ill-equipped to discern between good and bad counsel.

A better question to ask in this regard is the question of expediency. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Expedient means helpful or beneficial. He wrote this in the context of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. As he reasons through it, you can see it’s more complicated than yes or no. If you are interested in this verse in more depth, you can go to a past article I wrote about it here.

Rather than asking if something is wrong, you should ask if it’s expedient. Is it helpful, beneficial? How is doing this going to affect my closeness to God? There are things that stir our thoughts and affections for God and there are things that stunt them or kill them cold. How something affects you is a question that others can’t really answer for you, unless you’re walking with wise friends who know you and see you over time. Then they can help, but they still don’t know fully what is going on within.

Solomon taught that the relentless pursuit of entertainment is folly (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). Everything in life doesn’t have to be a sermon to be beneficial but you do have to have wisdom to have the good kind of enjoyment of the things of earth (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7; Proverbs 5:15-19).

Has Facebook Made Us All Busybodies?

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. ~ Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. ~ Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

BUSY-BODY, n. biz’zy-body. [busy and body.] A meddling person; one who officiously concerns himself with the affairs of others. 1 Busybody is an old-fashioned word. It sounds as though it could easily be featured in a grandmotherly scolding along with words like snooping and pilfering. Excepting matronly tongue lashings, we probably don’t think about it with much precision. What is a busybody exactly? More importantly, what does the Holy Spirit mean when He warns us in the Bible against being a busybody?

Busybody in the New Testament

The English word busybody appears three times in the New Testament. If we look at each one briefly in its context, we form a good description of the word.

  1. “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). The Greek word, περιεργαζομενους (periergazomenous), is here translated busybodies. It is a verb, so Paul wrote that some Thessalonians were not working but rather they were busybodying. The word literally means to work around and conveys the thought of busying oneself with business other than one’s own. This verse pairs with 1 Thessalonians 4:11 where Paul instructed the Thessalonians to do their own business. So in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 Paul is complaining that they had not followed the admonition.
  2. “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Busybody here is translated from a different form of the Greek word from 2 Thessalonians 3:11, περιεργοι (periergoi). The word denotes being busy with trifles and refers to dabbling in magical arts in Acts 19:19. In the context of the verse, it is paired with idleness, wandering from house to house, babbling about inane things, and speaking things they ought not. Paul is here describing a woman whose husband has died and she doesn’t have any children and otherwise is not set to any useful employment. She has become an idle gadabout and gossip.
  3. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). The underlying word here is different from the other two we looked at. Here it is αλλοτριοεπισκοπος (allotriepiskopos) and means overseeing others’ affairs or meddling in others’ affairs. It is a compound word formed by joining allotrios, “belonging to another,” and episkopos, “an overseer.” Allotrios is the opposite of idios, which is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 when Paul says to “do your own business.” The word in 1 Peter 4:15 does also have a legal connotation in the form of a charge brought against the early Christians as being insurrectionists.

From this we have a good picture of the term. A busybody is one who meddles in the affairs of others. It can include such things as gossip and slander or go more maliciously to inciting discontent and rebellion in families, churches, businesses, or even against governments. Inherent in all those definitions is the understanding that there are things that belong to us and things that do not. There are things that are our business and things that are not. A busybody is a person busy in the things that are not their business. The Bible has plenty to say about the kind of damage that busybodies do (Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:13; 16:27-28; 17:9; 18:8; 20:19; 25:9-10, 23; 26:20).

What are we to do about busybodiness?

The sin was similar in the three instances we referenced above and the solution was also similar. The sin has to do with meddling in business that doesn’t belong to us. The solution was to avoid it and give attention to our own affairs.

  • The answer for the Thessalonians was to busy themselves with their own business (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
  • The answer for the widows was to get married, have children, and take care of their own house (1 Timothy 5:14).
  • The answer for the Christians was to ensure that whatever suffering came on them was because they were busy doing what belonged to them and what they ought to do (1 Peter 4:16).

If we return to our wizened matriarchs, we need a good dose of, “Mind your own business!” Be busy doing good and taking care of your own affairs. We have ways of rationalizing meddling. We call it “concern” or consider it “spiritual” to meddle in the business of others. Jesus had just told Peter what Peter should do and he immediately asked about John, “What shall this man do?” Jesus responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:21-22). Get it? Take care of your own business and let others take care of their own business.

You said something about Facebook?

Now we get to that sharp thingummy that justifies the needle’s existence—the point. Social media gives us a facility to pry into the affairs of others that would have made long-tongue Lucy of bygone days win a blue ribbon for proper impression of a mastiff on hot, summer days.

I’m afraid that along with the capability we have accepted the perfidy that anything posted publicly is the right business of the public. I realize the mint-tithers could chop and dice this up into impressively precise cuts, but I think we’re better off to heed the biblical admonition to mind our own business and not go wandering about in things we ought not. And I think the Bible said something about creeping things, but maybe that was about something else.

So, has Facebook made us all busybodies? The answer is: No. I must also admit it is a trick question. Facebook doesn’t make anyone a busybody or a sinner in any other way. Facebook is like any tool—it can be used for good or bad. It can be a strong temptation to people with a penchant for gossip and too much time on their hands. What are we to do? I believe the Good Book somewhere says that if Facebook causes you to sin, you should logoff and unsubscribe, for it is better to be disconnected from social media and have actual friends you know than it is to know what your “friends,” whom you don’t know, were wearing on Wednesday, March 30th and what they were eating for lunch. And cat pictures.

Notes:

  1. Webster, Noah. (1828). American Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved June 2. 2015. http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Home?word=Busy-body

The Blank Page

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" ~ Luke 14:28

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” ~ Luke 14:28

The blank page is meant to have the blankness taken away.

I love paper and pencils and pens. Maybe love is a strong word. I genuinely enjoy them. I’ve worked with all sorts of paper: plain bond, vellum, and mylar film. I once got to work with a set of drawings from the 50’s that were inked onto linen, which the old timers called cheesecloth. It had an almost waxy feel that reminded me of a liquid-impervious tablecloth you might find draped over a sad and wobbly two-seater at a cheap spaghetti house.

I’ve worked with woodcase pencils, plastic lead holders, and mechanical pencils. In my earlier days I preferred thin and sleek, but in my later days with gout, carpal tunnel, and such, I prefer a thick grip and enough heft that I don’t get hand cramps from using it. I’ve used various graphite and plastic leads and inks.

I’ve used technical pens for inking drawings, cheap Bic’s for everything from writing to firing spitwads. I’ve used a number of different fountain pens for, gasp, writing by hand. Good paper, a good pen, and good ink has a way of inspiring you to write something good.

Oh, what could be . . .

I haven’t done it for a long time, but I always loved taping down a fresh sheet of vellum, squaring up the drafting machine, considering what that sheet of paper would be in a few hours or a few days, depending on what needed drawn. I enjoyed taking a good mechanical pencil with downward pressure and a slight twist along a straightedge as most of the lead left a line and a little of it crumbled along the edge. No worries, a quick whisk with a horse hair brush and all was right.

I’ve been around the sun enough times to be able to reflect on some things that are past. Unfortunately, I’ve found many things have already slipped beyond recall. So while I love good paper, pens, and pencils, what I really love is the possibility that these bring. Some are intimidated by a blank page but it’s full of wonderful possibilities. These implements represent a great potential.

Potential: it’s what could be. The sky really is the limit. It could be anything, everything, or nothing. If you can imagine it, you can imagine it. I don’t think I’m alone. We love potential. We rejoice in it. We brag about it. We celebrate possibility more than reality. Not a few sheets have betrayed the vision of my mind and ended up in a crumpled ball and banked off the wall into a metal can.

If we think wisely about this, might the dreamy potential be hindering us from actually doing something? Solomon advises us wisely, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). The beginning of a thing is the potential phase. It is the dreaming and planning phase where we are swept away with possibilities.

If we linger too long in the possibilities of what might be, we end up not knowing what is (Proverbs 14:23). The end of a thing is something. Something has been made, written, drawn, painted, produced. It has tangible existence and no longer abides only in the talk of the lips.

But what if what’s made is lesser than the dream imagined? The thought daunts us. We take solace in the vision because it’s perfect. It’s just the way we want. The reality is almost certain to disappoint. Yet here, if I may stretch Solomon’s meaning a little, “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

Oh, what might have been . . .

Solomon teaches us repeatedly that it is our portion in this life to enjoy the fruits of our labors (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 5:18-19; 9:9). Fruits of labor are the results of work, not the results of talk (Proverbs 14:23). To enjoy the fruit we have to do the work. So Solomon admonishes us, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Paper and ink and lead are called consumables, because they exist for that purpose. They are meant to be used up. The paper should be marked on. The pen should run dry and the pencil should end as a nub. They are serving their purpose that way. Our life is also consumable. It’s meant to be used up. Celebrating possibilities can keep you from celebrating realities, which is far better, and as with pen and paper there comes a time when it is too late.

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