Screwtape Letter #3

“My dear Wormwood,”

expurgated: to remove something that is thought to be objectionable or unsuitable.
innocuous: not harmful or offensive.
rheumatism: a disease marked by pain and swelling in the joints.
domestic: relating to the running of a home or to family relations.
utterances: a spoken word or statement, or vocal sound.
piqued: a feeling of irritation or resentment because one has been slighted.

The whole third chapter of James is devoted to the general topic of how we sin with the tongue.What are some specific ways that we sin with our tongues? The two that immediately come to mind are lying and verbal abuse, but there is a much lesser known, subtle way in which we sin with our speech. In letter three of The Screwtape Letters, we find ourselves dealing with the subject of Christian conduct in close community. It seems that the closer the relationship is, the more prone we are to sin with our mouth. Why is it that we are the most careless with those whom we claim to care the most about? When this lesson from letter three took place several weeks ago, every student read a portion of the letter, and then we discussed ways that we sin with our mouth, and ways that we can fight those tendencies. The following points are just an outline of that discussion.

1. “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard,” We can be thankful that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world” and He won’t let it rest with us. God’s Spirit is in us working out God’s good pleasure in us, fitting us to wage war with remaining sin. Jesus is Lord over our whole being, even our speech. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12,13, ESV) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.(2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)

2. Screwtape reminds Wormwood to “Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones.” Here again as in previous lessons, we see that the mind plays a key role in the Christian’s walk of faith. We can never drop our guard, even for a second. We must be constantly vigilant. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, ESV) This portion of letter three also reminds us that the Christian walk is simple. It may not be easy, but it certainly is simple. All of our Christian life can be boiled down to “Trust and Obey”. There really is no such thing as advanced and spiritual duties. It all comes down to trusting in Christ alone for your salvation, and seeking to reflect the love of Christ as you live and walk among others.

3. “Make sure that . . . he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism.” I think what is going on in this section is the concept of religion that is confined to the spiritual and never reaches the physical. We should pray for someones soul, but we should also be concerned about their physical needs as well. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17, ESV)

4. “When two humans have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other.” How easy it is to expect the worst from others. When we are already aggravated with some one, then it is even easier to build a case against someone with the even the slightest look or tone. A Christian should never be a cynic. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV) The best way to avoid feeling like this is to communicate. Ask the person what he meant by that expression or look, or tone. Whenever possible, try to put the best possible face on someone else’s behavior.

5. “In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper. . .” At this point the discussion of our use of language is pointed straight back on each one of us. We have a responsibility to be fair in estimating other people’s motives when speaking to us, but we have an even greater responsibility to speak to others with honesty. We have a responsibility not only to be honest with our words, but also to be honest with the way we use those words. Communication is such a complex art. Words and sentences have meaning, but with the use of analogous and equivocal language, sentences can carry quite a number of meanings. With the use of tone, inflection, volume, emphasis of certain words, and facial expressions, many more meanings can be carried with the use of the same words. When dealing with the tongue, a Christians responsibility goes far beyond what he says.

Let’s close with this declaration and warning from our Lord: For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (Matthew 12:34b-36, ESV)

“Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape
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