Monday, February 18, 2013

Our Sinful Passions at Work in Our Members

An addendum to last week’s post on self-control and passions:

In his letter to the church in Rome. Paul writes, “While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”
(Romans 7:5)

At the risk of belaboring the point I made last week, I wonder what comes to mind for most of us when we hear Paul’s reference to sinful passions at work in our members. Which of our ‘members’? What ‘passions’? Is it just me, or don’t most of us initially think of sexual members and sexual passions?

No doubt, our sexual members and passions can cause all sorts of moral mischief. But, that is far from Paul’s only concern. And from the concerns of the rest of the New Testament.

The only other place in the New Testament where ‘member’ is used in the same way as Paul uses it in Romans 7 is in the Letter of James. There, James does not refer to sexual members but to a member that causes much more mischief and does more damage to our souls than those – the tongue. “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!” (James 3:5)

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? (James 3:6 - 4:1)

So, when we think of the discipline of self-control, one of the members we need most to attend to is the tongue as well as the sinful spiritual passions/cravings that are expressed by that member which bear the fruit of death. And in the digital age, the ‘tongue’ might well include those ten small members at the end of our hands.

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