Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teasing & Insults - The Instructor on those who live together

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"Let us keep away from us jibing, the originator of insult, from which strifes and contentions and enmities burst forth... A man is judged, not from his deeds alone, but from his words... For if we are enjoined especially to associate with saints, it is a sin to jibe at a saint: 'For from the mouth of the foolish,' says the Scripture, 'is a staff of insult,'—meaning by staff the prop of insult, on which insult leans and rests. Whence I admire the apostle, who, in reference to this, exhorts us not to utter 'scurrilous nor unsuitable words.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
To "Gibe" (the modern spelling of Jibe) is to tease or taunt someone by our speech. Friendly banter is one thing, but careless words, regardless of their intentions can wound others leaving them hurt and offended. The distance from Gibe to Insult can be incredibly small yet insults can separate friends and ruin relationships. However, insults are not only the result of careless words but can also result from the repetition of gibes. If we are continually teasing and putting someone else down, then eventually those words will enter into our own hearts and we will begin to believe them ourselves, souring our hearts against those we associate with. When I was in college, the Physic majors would jokingly make fun of the Engineers. At first, it was all in fun but it didn't take long for us to believe what we were saying and to see ourselves as superior to them. In the end our gibes were not in jest but were the true expressions of our heart.
"For if the assemblies at festivals take place on account of affection, and the end of a banquet is friendliness towards those who meet, and meat and drink accompany affection, how should not conversation be conducted in a rational manner, and puzzling people with questions be avoided from affection? For if we meet together for the purpose of increasing our good-will to each other, why should we stir up enmity by jibing? It is better to be silent than to contradict, and thereby add sin to ignorance." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
If we associate with each other for the purpose of building relationships based on mutual affection for one another, then why would we slip into conduct that can destroy the very thing we are seeking to establish? Why would we risk insults by our gibes rather than avoiding gibes altogether? Let our conversation be pleasant, beneficial, and encouraging. Moreover, its not just gibes that we should avoid, but also such topics that we know to be contrary with those we are with. For example, I have known some who, in conversation, always like to argue about their favorite doctrine, trying to prove the other person wrong and themselves right. I have learned to avoid these people. For some it's theology and for others it's politics. What ever the case, when we enter into conversation for the purpose of proving ourselves right, we enter them not for the purpose of building up relationships with other people.
"'Blessed,' in truth, 'is the man who has not made a slip with his mouth, and has not been pierced by the pain of sin;' or has repented of what he has said amiss, or has spoken so as to wound no one." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Let our aim in all our conversations be to no offend or injure others by what we might say. If we have sinned in our words then let us quickly repent, both to God and the one we have injured, that through forgiveness our wounded relationship might be healed.

David Robison

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