Toxic Sludge

By Not Known

Have you seen pictures of the October 4 sludge spillage near Ajkar in Hungary? The spillage is indeed colourful but also highly toxic. Eight people have perished, the river Marcal is ‘dead’, an area equivalent to 5% of Singapore’s land mass is covered by red muck and the Danube is being polluted. The blame game and cleanup will doubtless continue for some time.

Hungary’s toxic sludge is highly visible and presents a largely technical challenge. But what of the spiritual toxic sludge that pollutes the life of a church, chokes its streams of living waters and slowly poisons its people?

Today’s Bible passage (2 Tim 2:14-24) identifies several aspects to this sludge:

  • Foolish and ignorant arguments that turn into quarrels (vv14&23)
  • Irreverent babble that spreads like ungodly gangrene (v16)
  • False teaching on important matters such as the resurrection (vv17-18).

It is interesting to note how careless and unwise words feature in this list. As James notes, the small tongue can have powerful effects for good or ill (Jas 3:5). Let’s all ask ourselves if our tongue is toxic, producing whispered gossip and such like, instead of words that build others up.

Such spiritual sludge requires decisive action to minimise its polluting effect. On a personal level we do well to flee besetting passions (such as those of youth), avoid the silly quarrels and cleanse ourselves so we are fit for God’s use and depart from evil (vv22,14,16,19,21,23). The positive side of all this is to work to present ourselves as approved workers who pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace and such like with a pure heart (vv15,22).

Church leaders have particular responsibilities when it comes to spiritual sludge. Thus Timothy is to charge his congregation to avoid silly quarrels (v14). All leaders are to act with kindness and gentleness in the hope that the polluters will come to their senses (vv24-26).

Pollutants like the sludge spill and India’s Bhopal gas disaster tend to come without clear warning. Likewise in the church. Church pollutants may quietly accumulate until they burst into action and it is too late for preventative measures.

Now is the time for a clean-up. Let’s all ask ourselves whether we contribute to a pollutant-free church life or distract from it. What can we do to maximise the cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love in our own life? How can we promote these virtues in others? 

David Burke