We are switching gears in this post. James finished his thought on faith and now covers a subject that has separated friends, ruined marriages, destroyed lives and even led nations into war.
James begins with a discourse on the potential destruction our words can inflict upon our fellow man. You may already have someone in mind that “really needs to hear this”. In truth we all need to hear it. I listened to a speech given by a Supreme Court Justice. In that speech I heard three words that really stuck with me…words have meaning. I really took this to heart. He is right, words do have meaning. Most conflicts start with careless words spoken in haste or in anger.
We certainly have a treasure chest full of sayings to illustrate the importance of choosing our words wisely.
A children’s song… “O be careful little mouth what you say”
Mother’s advice…”If you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all”.
In the text itself, verses 3-4, we have two examples of how that little thing in our mouth, our tongue, can get us into big trouble. (The bit in the horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship are used to show how a small thing can control a large animal or ship.)
There are some who earn a label by offering advice on any subject, Mr. Know-it-all. They are always telling people what to do. They want to be in charge, you know the type. In our very first verse of chapter 3 James points a finger strait at those who try to be bossy and reminds them that God is watching and judgment is coming. If any of us are known as know-it-alls, it’s time to stop. Stop it!
We Can’t Take it Back
In the second verse James states that the tongue is what gets us in trouble. No one is immune to saying something hurtful; however, some are quite skilled at being offensive.
- How many marriages could have been saved if all the hurtful words had not spilled out?
- How many friendships might still be intact had they chosen their words more carefully?
- How many sons have not spoken to their father in years due to words said in haste?
In the beginning of verse 2 James says that a person who never offends in words is perfect. I doubt anyone reading this post will say they are perfect but if we are careful about what we say, trying not to offend, this is pleasing to God. (This works in all relationships)
In verse 6 James speaks very plain: the tongue is compared to a burning fire, a world of iniquity having the ability to defile the whole body. His final remark in the verse states that the tongue left unguarded is ignited by the fires of hell itself. That’s some powerful imagery. Words have meaning, choose wisely.