“I’m Just Saying…”

I’m a bit of a student of language. 

I always find it interesting when a certain phrase becomes commonplace.  This one is on the way out, but remember, “I know, right?”  Whenever you were talking with someone, and they agreed with what you’re saying, they often would say, “I know, right?” 

When I lived in the South, this was a good one.  “Bless his heart.” “Bless her heart.”  It was license to then say whatever you want.  Like this, “Bless his heart, but he’s as dumb as a rock.”

Now, it’s “I’m just saying.”  This usually follows a stinging criticism.  As in, “You’re a narcissist, egomaniac, and a control freak.  I’m just saying.”  (Some of you might recognize this as a description of a certain someone of a popular reality TV show.  Don’t judge.)  While “I’m just saying” wasn’t said there, it could have been.  It’s a curious phrase.  We tack it on, like it lessens the harshness of the words? 

Don’t judge again, but I have a bit of a sarcastic streak in me.  So when I hear someone say, “I”m just saying,” I kind of want to say: “Oh, I thought you were just being harsh and judgmental….but you’re saying that you’re just saying.”  What does that even mean?

We have a Christian equivalent.  When we want to harshly say something to someone, we can tack on, “Hey, I’m just speaking the truth in love.”  It comes from a portion of a verse in Ephesians 4.  It is totally taken out of context.  But if we’re honest, we like to do that with the Bible—take things out of context to suit our purposes. 

The whole context of the passage where Paul writes these words is much different than an interpersonal conflict.  Paul is writing to a group of believers in a city called Ephesus, modern day Turkey.  The believers in Jesus there are surrounded by all kinds of influences, including the city dedicated to the worship of the goddess Artemis.  In a fascinating story, you can read more about that in Acts 19–how Paul wanted to speak in front of a frenzied crowd chanting the name of Artemis! 

But Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus was meant to encourage them—to help them remember they indeed are adopted sons and daughters of God.  To encourage them to remain steadfast, growing in their knowledge and love of Jesus.  Paul wants to remind them of what they once were, so that they might not judge others.  And how the grace of God has made them new.  In the 4th chapter of the letter, Paul calls to the Ephesians to live out their identity, forgiving one another, growing together in maturity.  Each one, Paul says, is to use the gifts given to them for the greater community. 

Then, Paul decides to talk about babies, boats, and gamblers.

In a mixture of metaphors, Paul writes, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teachings and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”   First he talks about infants, or babies.  When a group of people commit themselves to using their God-given gifts for the greater good, bringing about unity and maturity, we will no longer be babies.  That metaphor didn’t seem to be enough, because Paul then talks about boats.  Boats in a storm are those tossed back and forth in a storm.  I reached out to a sailor in our congregation, and he told me that a boat without a direction is in trouble.  He wrote,

When a ship is not holding to a specific course it is simply at the mercy of the sea just like a piece of driftwood.

Finally, Paul talks about the cunning and craftiness of people.  The word Paul chooses for “cunning” is an interesting one.  It is the Greek word, “kubeia,” which literally means “dice-playing.”  The connotation here is a cheating gambler that loads the dice to deceive those playing. 

Paul, having spent time with believers in Ephesus, must have known the challenges they faced.  Being new to the faith, being without a course or direction, and perhaps being surrounded by those wanting to deceive them.  How do you stand in the face of all that?

Well, it is out of all that that Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ.”  The implications are many, and it’s pretty hard to justify using “speaking the truth in love” as a Christian version of “I’m just saying.”  Paul says we speak the truth in love—and in so doing, we will grow up to become a community that reflects Christ to the world.  Sure, we might speak the truth in love to someone else in our community, but the foundation is love, and the goal is maturity and growth. 

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes those that call on Christ are known way more for “just saying” things that aren’t done out of love at all.  In reading this passage again—perhaps Paul had in mind both an internal and external audience.  We speak the truth in love—to each other, and to the world.  I think that Paul is saying that when a group of people, growing and maturing together, becoming more like Jesus, using their gifts together—when that community speaks out of love, people will listen.  And maybe we will be known not only for our words, but the love of Jesus in us as we speak truth. 

Questions for individuals:  Have you ever had someone confront you in something, but did it in a way that was unloving?  How did you take that?  On the other hand, did you ever have someone that you knew loved you, confront you, and it moved you to do something about it?  How might that change the way you speak to others? 

Questions for children and families: Paul speaks of us “being tossed back and forth, blown by the wind.” As my sailor friend said, a boat gets tossed and could get damaged when it isn’t heading on a certain course.  Have a conversation as a family:  where are we heading as a family?  What is our goal?  (As fall is approaching, with schedules filling up, how might that goal shape how you spend your time?)

Questions for the workplace:  Look at Paul’s phrase again:  “Speaking the truth…in love.”  What kind of culture exists in your workplace?  Is it one in which criticisms and “feedback” are given without regard for one’s feelings, in unloving ways?  Or, is it one in which you feel appreciated, even loved, for who you are?  Is it unrealistic to recognize “the whole person” in the workplace—their needs, dreams, emotions, struggles, and the rest? 

When Jesus Meets Snapchat

[artist credit: Sermon on the Mount by Juanita Cole Towery]

“Do we realize that our sons and daughters have grown up in a world of social media, which is inherently judgmental?”  I was listening to Dr. Tim Davis, the Executive Director of the department of Resilience and Leadership at the University of Virginia last week.  My ears perked up. I had been studying Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  

Dr. Davis went on briefly to explain how so many people have grown up with a daily ritual of posting something on a social media platform, and then waiting to see who likes, loves, retweets, or comments.  In essence, they are waiting to see how they are judged.  

Then, my wife sent me an article on how teens are using Snapchat, and how “streaks” are vital to sustaining friendships.


Some of us might not use social media that frequently, and might find ourselves saying, “Well, that’s just silly.”  But is it? There was a quote from Jules Spector, one of the teens interviewed, that struck me: 

“I think in some weird way it makes concrete a feeling of a friendship. Like, you can talk to someone every day, but a streak is physical evidence that you talk every day.”

This is simply today’s version of relationships feeling more real, more consistent.  In a digital age, is it any wonder that so many of us want some evidence of relationship?  

So what does Jesus have to say about all this?  If he says, “Don’t judge,” and social media is judgmental, do we give up on that?  Or, do we chalk up Jesus’ words to being outdated and irrelevant? (If we’re honest, we often do this, especially with the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5-7). 

When we dig deeper, we find Jesus’ words to be both convicting and life-giving.  

The Bible actually has a lot to say about being slow to judge.  And there is a similar refrain: be careful when you judge, because you do the same things.  

Hear these words from Romans 2:1:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  

That refrain is present here in Matthew 7.  Jesus says we are to look at ourselves, the “plank” in our own eye, before we go to remove a little speck from another’s eye.  

Some of us might be wondering, “OK, so are we not to judge at all?  Isn’t there a place for discernment? Is it realistic to really walk through life without judging someone?”  

As we’ve mentioned before in this series on “How We Get Along” with others, is it likely that Jesus is not just handing down new laws to be obeyed.  “Don’t judge or else.” But, to get us to ask the question, “What kind of person would not judge so quickly?”  

Digging deeper, scholars on this passage say something interesting.  Namely, that Jesus is not saying to never judge, but to examine our hearts to see if we have a certain kind of judging spirit:

“What our Lord means to condemn is a censorious and fault-finding spirit.  A readiness to blame others for trifling offenses or matters of indifference, a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments, a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors and make the worst of them—this is what our Lord forbids.”  JC Ryle, Crossway Bible Commentary

And again, “In short, the unnoticed log is often the critical spirit itself.”  Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary

This is the convicting part for me.  How often do I find myself judging others with a critical, fault-finding spirit?  How quickly can I dismiss a person, squash an idea, make unfounded assumptions, and more?  

This is the life-giving part.  Jesus is offering a way out. Actually, Jesus is pointing to a way of life where I am set free from such tendencies.  First look at the plank in my life, he says. When I find myself thinking or saying judgmental things about others, can I immediately look at times I have said or thought similar things?  When I find myself judging someone else’s behavior, can I immediately look at times when I have done something similar? When I do this, does my attitude change towards others?

So what about social media in all of this?  What might Jesus say about all of that? First, I wonder if he might long for people to be set free from finding affirmation and identity in how many likes and loves they get.  It only lasts as long as you see it. And it only creates in us a desire to get more the next time. (True confession: If you don’t think I look at how many views I get on these blog posts, you’re wrong!).  Second, I wonder if he would want us to be less judgmental and harsh about the things we see and read there. Have you ever written a post, an email, a letter in anger and then regretted it later? And finally, that we would understand the generations that have grown up with a way of relating that has been inherently judgmental, and be a un-hypocritical people that points the way to a love that is unconditional.  

Questions for individuals:  If there is a person that you are too critical towards, who is it?  How helpful do you think your critical words are to them? Can you picture yourself asking for forgiveness from them, and honestly asking them if you have ever hurt them with your words?  If there is a group of people that you are critical towards, who is it? Is there something you might not be seeing about them, that is true about yourself?  

Questions for kids and families:  When I was growing up, kids were often judged by things like this:  how good they were at sports, how good they were at games on the playground, how good they were at school, how they dressed, who they hung out with, and a lot more.  Talk with your family about the things you think kids are judged on today, and if you feel judged. What do you think Jesus might have to say about those things?

Questions for the workplace:  Perhaps the place you work uses “evaluations” or “assessments,” and you either are in charge of giving them, or you receive them regularly.  In either case, you are called upon to judge others, or be judged. How can these be done in a way that is less “fault-finding,” and more constructive, or help you grow, or help you grow others?

How To Get Along…by “Bear-ing”.

We are in our second week of our series on “How to Get Along.” Last week, we saw how vital it was to Jesus to teach us to take the initiative of reconciliation (Matthew 5:23). Perhaps my “radar” is up to look in Scripture for how many things there are for us to consider when it comes to our relationships with one another.  In Colossians 3:12-17, the apostle Paul is writing to a community of followers of Jesus. He uses this language of “putting off and putting on” to communicate what a new life of listening and obeying Jesus looks like. After strongly telling them to put to death certain things, he then mentions putting away or “putting off” these things:

anger, rage, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying.  

I look at each of these words and see how each one is tied to our relationships with one another.  Sure, we can get “angry with the world,” or even angry with God for our lot in life. But primarily, we are angry at one another.  Our rage has a target—sometimes intended, sometimes unintended—and that target is usually another person. We have malice towards another, we slander someone else.  Our obscene talk is directed at someone else. And finally, we can lie to ourselves, but we more often lie to others.

This life of following Jesus is intensely relational.  

New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie calls these things we must put off, “social irritants.”  To be honest, when I first read these words, I chuckled to myself. “Um, with all due respect, I think they are more than irritants.”  But I looked up the definition, and it speaks of two kinds of irritants:  things that cause inflammation and discomfort in the body; and, something that is a continual annoyance or distraction.  

As someone who deals with a disease that can cause persistent inflammation in my body (celiac disease), I reflected a bit more on that definition.  I know I have undertaken all kinds of things in my life to reduce inflammation. Diet, lifestyle, exercise, supplements. I was given a diagnosis, and told that fighting inflammation is key.  So I began that fight.

Do I fight against these “social irritants” of anger, rage, slander and the rest in the same way?  Have I changed the “diet of my thought life,” changed how I live, have I sought out “exercises” and “supplements” for my life that might free me from such things as these?  Or, have I begun to love nursing my anger and can’t imagine a life without it?

Fortunately, Paul gives what Guthrie calls “social ointments” to begin healing those irritants.  He says we are to put on the following things:

compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love.  

There is too much here in each of these words to fit in this space.  So I want to specifically focus on this verse:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.   —Colossians 3:13

A variety of English translations translate this verse differently.  “Bear” with someone literally means to be patient. “Grievance” means you blame someone else for something.  We live in a world where our patience is constantly tested, and we are tempted to blame at every turn. Is Paul saying that we simply “stop being impatient,” and “stop blaming”?

It’s important to remember something here.  Last week, I said Jesus in Matthew 5 is not necessarily saying “Don’t be angry.”  He painted a picture of what someone would do if they were the kind of person who sought out reconciliation first, even in the midst of something important.  In the same way, we all know that it is very difficult to read “Be patient,” and just do that.

Instead, what if we began to ask ourselves, “How can I become the kind of person who is more patient, and quick to forgive?”  

One place to start is where Paul ends this verse:  

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  

Read that again.  

Think about what that means.  For what has the Lord forgiven you?  Is it little, or is it much?

When I ask that question, I can’t help but think of a story we find in the gospels.  When Jesus is invited to dinner in the home of a man named Simon, a woman who had a less-than-perfect reputation came.  She begins to wet the feet of Jesus with her tears, and anoints his feet with expensive perfume. Simon assumes Jesus doesn’t know the woman’s reputation, and slanders Jesus’ reputation in his heart—“he must not be a prophet.”  Jesus somehow knows what Simon is thinking. He tells him a parable of two people—one whom owed much, one whom owed little. Both debts are forgiven, and Jesus gets Simon to answer the question: “Which will love the moneylender more?”  Simon answers, “The one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus then turns the attention back to the woman, effectively saying, “Whoever is forgiven much, loves much,” or loves with extravagance.

The point is clear.  When we have in view how much we have been forgiven, we are on a pathway to show the extravagance of love that Jesus has for us.    

When you begin to think about all that the Lord has forgiven you, and THEN you look at the person against whom you have a complaint, does your perspective change?  

I will end with this.  This section of the letter ends with Paul writing these words:  

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

What does it mean to “do all things” in the name of Jesus?

Donald Guthrie offers this:

“In the New Testament church this would be regarded as no mere superstitious uttering of the name as a magical formula in the manner of many contemporary heathen cults, but as a recognition of the Lordship of Christ in everything.”  Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary [emphasis mine].  

Questions for you:  Guthrie writes about the early church learning to recognize the Lordship of Christ in everything.  When you think of Jesus as Lord, do you think He is Lord over every area of your life? What parts of your day, what parts of your week, your schedule, your thoughts, priorities and dreams is Jesus a part of, and where is He absent?  What would it look like for you to include Him in those places?

Against whom might you have a complaint?  Whom might Jesus be calling you to forgive?  Could you be more patient with them? Has Jesus forgiven you of anything similar to which you are blaming the other?

Questions for children and families:  Talk amongst yourselves about the times when it is hard to be patient.  Perhaps it was waiting in line for a turn on a ride, getting to your destination on a road trip, or when you would finally get dessert.  How quickly did you find yourself getting angry, speaking poorly about someone, blaming someone, or even lying to get what you wanted? What would being patient look like instead?  What would it look like to forgive people in those circumstances instead?

Questions for your workplace:  In your place of work, how many times have you seen examples of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, or lying?  How many times have you promoted those things with your own words? Speaking things that verge on slander of a co-worker or boss, a client or customer, a parent, teacher, or someone else?  Where might compassion, kindness, forgiveness, or patience have a place in your workplace? What would be the risks? What would be the rewards? What would it look like if love brought unity, and peace ruled, with the people you work alongside?

How To Get Along

Believe it or not, Jesus has a lot of things to say to those who claim to follow Him about how to get along. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), considered by many to be the most profound spiritual teaching ever written, contains multiple references to how we are to handle conflict, whether we are to seek revenge, how we make promises to one another, and more.

This past spring, I took the opportunity to audit a class offered by Fuller Seminary. It was entitled, “One Body, Many Frustrations: A Systems Approach to Conflict in Congregations.” It was taught by Cameron Lee, a long time member of the faculty at Fuller, a licensed marriage and family therapist. A “systems approach” is nothing more than a recognition that every group can begin to behave as a “system,” like a system in the body—the circulatory system, the respiratory system, etc. In fact, when the apostle Paul refers to the church as the “body of Christ,” we can see that within the body are multiple systems. Each of those systems behave in a certain way because of how they were created and designed, and they depend on one another (as Paul points out in I Corinthians 12).

In a community of people like the church, those systems, Professor Lee taught us, were created by shared stories, feelings and memories that go with those stories, and the rules, structures, and policies that came out of those stories and feelings, and so on. Conflict naturally comes when new decisions, or people unfamiliar with the history and rules, come into relationship with the existing systems. Because we are always changing, reforming as a church, conflict is inevitable. So, how do we get along with one another when conflict comes?

Over the next six weeks, we’re going to look at just a few of Jesus’ sayings in the gospel of Matthew, and Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus. In the guide below, I hope to ask each week some questions for reflection for us as individuals. And, that families with kids could ask these in their homes, perhaps around the dinner table. Finally, those at work could imagine how these teachings might play out in the workplace. Feel free to adapt any of these as you wish. My hope is that we might be changed by the word of God in these passages, through the conviction and comfort of the Holy Spirit. And we might learn how to get along in the way of Jesus.

Week 1

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Jesus, Matthew 5:23

Would you leave your own wedding, at the moment of the vows, and go and meet with someone that you knew was angry with you? That is the analogy that Dallas Willard gives in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, to explain the weight of Jesus’ words here. We are removed from the context of the ritual of offering gifts at the altar of a temple. But Willard argues that the picture that Jesus was painting was one that would be familiar with the crowd. The ritual of offering your gift at the altar was an elaborate one. There were certain rules, certain expectations, and one of those expectations was that nothing would interrupt this sacred ceremony.

First, it is important that we set the context of this famous sermon of Jesus, named the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). Jesus begins with “beatitudes,” a description of who really is well-off in God’s kingdom. It is not who we think. Jesus turns the common thinking of his day upside-down by saying it is the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart. And, those who are still hungering and thirsting after right relationship—with God, and with others. Jesus is telling the crowd, and us, that God sees the down-and-out, those suffering, those who know they aren’t in control, those who are seeking God and wanting to live in peace with others. And in that condition, not because of their condition, but IN that condition, that God’s presence and power are available.

Next, Jesus says that his hearers are salt and light in the world. Those who will live by these teachings of his will be those that add flavor to the world, help preserve it from rotting (the use of salt in Jesus’ day), and will illuminate all that is good, true, and beautiful. Then, Jesus tells us why he is here. Not to abolish the laws of God, but to show what fulfillment of those laws really looks like.

It is out of all of this teaching that Jesus then moves to this passage. It is interesting to note that Jesus begins his most famous teaching by stressing the importance of relationship with one another. This passage we are looking at comes in the context of a commandment not to murder. It is one of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20. Jesus pushes us all past a cursory obedience to that commandment to reveal the source of murder: anger. Jesus is showing us that it from the well of anger that murder comes, and we must drain the water from that well. So we must become the kind of person that is not mastered by anger.

Jesus then uses this illustration in Matthew 5:23 to show what that would look like. The person who builds their house on the teachings of Jesus would be one who, in the midst of performing a religious or cultural ritual, would see that the more important thing would be reconciliation with a friend, relative, co-worker, or neighbor.

Willard, again in The Divine Conspiracy, makes it a point to emphasize this about Jesus’ teaching. The point is not that we do these things. Rather, we embark upon the journey to become the kind of person who would do these things.

He writes, “Now just think of what the quality of life and character must be in a person who would routinely interrupt sacred rituals to pursue reconciliation with a fellow human being. What kind of thought life, what feeling tones and moods, what habits of body and mind, what kinds of deliberations and choices would you find in such a person? When you answer these questions, you will have a vision of the true “rightness beyond” that is at home in God’s kingdom of power and love.” (Divine Conspiracy, 156)

May we embark on a journey to be at home in God’s kingdom of power and love, and learn to truly get along.

Questions for reflection:

Willard mentions “quality of life and character,” “thought life, feeling tones and moods,” and “habits of body and mind” that might enable someone to do what Jesus describes in Matthew 5:23. What comes to mind when you read those words? Which of those might be lacking in your own life? What might Jesus be calling you to give up, or to add, to lean into Him to become that kind of person?

Questions for families and kids:

What are the situations at home, or at school, that you find causing fights among you? Are you holding onto any grudges with someone else? What might Jesus say to you about those grudges?

Questions for your work:

I’m picturing here a boss holding a meeting to announce a big development in the company—perhaps the launching of a new product. Can you imagine the boss stopping the presentation and telling everyone he or she needed to reconcile with a co-worker first? What would that communicate to those present at the meeting? What would you think about the character of that boss?