Reading: James 3:1-12 Click on the reading to read it.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings… James 3:9
In this part of his letter, James talks about something that we may think of as obvious yet at the same time, don’t really give enough attention to ~ the things we say!
There’s been a study: on average we speak some 16,000 words per day!
Imagine what could be done with those 16,000 words…
The tongue, says James, is like a horse’s bit, a rudder of a ship, or small spark of fire in large forest. In other words, something even though it is small, has a huge and significant impact!
I don’t need to labour over the harm we can cause to others simply by what we say. Sometimes we can’t seem to help ourselves, other times it is deliberate. With our words we can support and encourage and yet at the same time we can be so destructive. James laments on how we have tamed so much of the world and yet when it comes to the tongue… well, he doesn’t mince his words:
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8
Sticks and Stones…
You know the rhyme:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Well, I’ve had a few broken bones in my time and I can safely say that when your bones break, it hurts! But more often than not, the pain will go: the bone will mend the bruising will fade.
I have also been hurt by words, both said and in writing. There are no physical scars but there are emotional scars and they linger for a long time, causing far more pain; pain which never really goes away. For me that rhyme should never be used because it is wrong. Words once they are out, are very difficult to take back; gossip and rumour are treated as truth, and as they say: ‘Well, there’s no smoke without fire!’
Of course, there are such things as smoke-making machines…
Stop and think for a moment. How many times have you said something that you know has hurt somebody else? How many times has that been deliberate or how often have the words just ‘come out’ without thinking? How many times have you been hurt by what others have said to you or about you?
All of us if we are honest, will already be thinking of many examples of these. The tongue can cause such damage even though it is such a small part of the body. As the words of an African proverb say [my paraphrase]:
‘If you think something so small can make no difference, try sharing your bed with a mosquito!’
Living a Christian life…
James reminds us of a very basic but so often overlooked aspect of Christian living ~ being careful about how we behave. So often we make the mistake of assuming that, because we are Christian, our behaviour should, automatically be ‘Godly’ and ‘right’
We definitely expect that of others who regard themselves as Christian. But we often fail to realise that this is not automatic. It needs to be practiced, worked on, controlled.
Read the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament and what you will find are instructions as to how followers of Jesus should act towards each other and towards the world.
Jesus of course gives us the command to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. He went on to show what that kind of love looked like: in the life he lived, the stories he told and the commands he gave to his followers.
So we read of:
And in all these instances, his followers were challenged because often it simply flew in the face of what they thought was normal and right behaviour. The Disciples had to learn how to love, care for, and treat both each other and their neighbours.
I suppose that is why people are particularly shocked when they hear of bad behaviour amongst Christian congregations and families. There is an expectation that people of faith should act and speak in ways that rise above the mess that seems so much part and parcel of our everyday lives. But I say again, just because we are Christian does not mean that we automatically know how live in love, peace and harmony, with all.
Rules of engagement…
That is why when you read the New Testament letters ~ especially those of Paul ~ you find a steady stream of instructions on how to live as the Body of Christ. And it’s in the letters that you find passages like the fruits of the Spirit ~ that start with Love and end with Self-Control; you find the pleas for unity amongst the believers ~ not acting out of selfish ambition, but with humility and love; You find the call for a renewing of the mind and not living to the standards of the world but rather to rise above it.
And here in James you find probably the biggest challenge to any Christian community ~ controlling what we say:
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:10
He goes on to point out that you can’t have fresh water and salt water flowing from the same spring. You can’t have Christian men and women who speak words of love and words of hate at the same time.
The Christian faith isn’t only about the heart and soul; it is also about our hands our feet, our work, our relationships… our words.
Take it or leave it…
I’ve been reading through the NT letters in the light of what I’ve been saying above, and I am struck at just how much of them are concerned with the day-to-day life of the Christian Church. How we live is just as important as what we believe! Yet so often we skip past those parts of the bible and I wonder why that is?
Is it that we don’t like being confronted with unpleasant truths about the way we are? We seem to head for those parts of Scripture that speak of salvation, heaven, faith and so on ~ things that fill our minds with warm thoughts about our future life with the Lord ~ and at the same time we avoid those parts which challenge us as to how we are to behave in the here and now. Maybe that’s why some people don’t like the letter of James. Maybe it’s a little too close for comfort…
Watch what you say…
It’s a reminder to me of how my Christian faith should and does impact on every part of my life, and the challenge to me is the same challenge to all of us: does the way I live reflect what I believe? Or as somebody once said: If it was against the law to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to find me guilty?
Today, like most days you will speak around 16,000 words. How many of those words are going to be words of encouragement, praise, support, love, faith?
How many of those words will be opposite? We all have a great opportunity each day to do something wonderful with the words we speak. Will we take that opportunity?
What will you do?
I leave you with some words from Mother Theresa of Calcutta:
‘Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.’