PROBLEMS IN COMMUNICATION
T. PIERCE BROWN
If you heard a person say, “He was literally bubbling over with joy,” would you automatically respond with, “You are crazy or illiterate or too ignorant to speak, for a person cannot literally bubble over?” Or would you recognize that the whole expression was a figurative one, although you heard the word, “literal.” Is it possible for person to “literally fill his paragraph with figurative expressions?” There are morons and oxymorons, but one does not need to accuse another of being a moron because he uses an oxymoron.
If one should say, “If a man does not have Christ, his life is empty, or filled with a void,” would you write a scathing article pointing out his ignorance and unsoundness in thinking that anything can be filled with emptiness? If a jar has nothing in it, are you sure whether it is filled with emptiness, or emptied of fullness, or either? Do you know for sure that it is better to say that one razor blade is twice as thin as another, or to say it is half as thick, or perhaps half as thin? Can you prove it by scripture?
There is enough confusion, false doctrine and rancorous divisive language in the world that we surely do not need to cause more bitterness, division and resentment by accusing others of being either stupid or unsound who happen to misuse words, or use them in a different sense than we do.
For example, if you heard a person say, “Your spirit will literally leave your body when you die,” would you accuse him of teaching false doctrine because you conclude that he did not have a literal spirit, or literally have a spirit in his body in the first place, because you think it is silly, ridiculous and stupid to talk of a literal spirit? You may know that one definition of literal is “real.” If you “really” have a spirit in your body, then you “literally” have one, else you are dead (James2:26).
Related to that question, do we do justice to the Bible use of the terms, “spirit” and “spiritual” if we assume that they must always refer to something that cannot be seen? What does Galatians 6:1 mean to you? It says, “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Is it literally true that a person may be spiritual without being immaterial? If we raise a question, “Are we literal, spiritual or material,” would we have to get into a bitter and divisive dispute in order to unravel some problems that are probably mostly semantics?
It is sometimes asserted that the deacons are to be in charge of the material matters, and the elders are to oversee the spiritual ones. Is securing and/or paying the preacher material or spiritual? How about ordering literature for evangelism or teaching? Should one of our more learned brethren be appointed to settle this matter for the brotherhood, and perhaps advocate withdrawal from all who differ with his conclusions?
Since the Bible is all-sufficient, can you answer all those questions by referring to some scripture? When you affirm that the Bible is all sufficient, do you mean it is sufficient to give you all things that pertain to life and godliness, or do you mean that if you know the Bible well enough, it will be sufficient to make sure you have a decent meal on the table, or know how to prevent sunburn? If you should decide to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) in order to find a better answer to questions, has God already given you in the Bible all the wisdom you need, or would it be a theological blunder to assume He might give you more?