“Just because you think something, doesn’t mean you have to say it.” Words of wisdom I’ve been repeatedly sharing with my 7-year-old son. He means well, but sometimes he just talks a little too much for his own good. Then again, don’t we all? We have been working through the book of James during our Movement Bible Study, and it is packed full of smack-you-in-the-mouth wisdom. James 3, titled “Taming the Tongue” in the ESV and “When You Open Your Mouth” in the Message, is one chapter I try to read often, and would encourage everyone to keep in their “go-to” list of verses to live by.
Working with teenagers for the last 13-plus years, I know students struggle with speaking in a way in which God would approve, but I think, if we are being honest, we must admit simply that we as humans struggle in this area. This chapter begins with James figuratively explaining the power and importance of our speech. First, he explains that our tongues are like a ship’s rudder, a small part of the larger object, but able to determine our course. Second, he compares our speech to a tiny spark of fire able to set an entire forest ablaze. What’s the point? Our words matter! Unfortunately, in his view, most of us cannot properly control our speech and are therefore “setting on fire the entire course of life.” In verses 7 and 8, James goes so far as to state that every animal in the world can be tamed by mankind, but we struggle to tame our own tongues.
How many times a day do we hear negative speech or speak negativity ourselves and not think twice about it? We have, in some ways, become numb to the negativity that surrounds us. Chuckling at someone’s wardrobe, speech, abilities, or ideas. Becoming jealous of others and compensating by stretching the truth to make ourselves look better, or tearing others down for the same reason. Gossiping. Even the silent speech we allow to happen in our minds about others or situations can be as damaging as speaking it aloud, because it clouds our judgment and creates a closed heart and mind. As James goes on to explain, these are not actions showing wisdom from God; instead, they are “unspiritual” and “demonic” (ouch). So in this season, let’s make a determined effort to talk less, listen more, encourage one another, solve problems, and in general, use our words to spark a fire that spreads the love of Christ to our friends, family, and community.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings … not two-faced.
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
James 3:17-18 (MSG)