Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that this passage is a gut punch.
Man, if this passage was true in the first century, how much more so today? Each of us carries with us a global megaphone in our pocket and we are not afraid to use it. Heck, many of us are addicted to using it.
It turns out destroying the lives of people with words is not a new thing. It’s been around since the earliest human civilizations. It has taken many forms over the centuries. Whether it’s “cancel culture” or “scarlet letters” or anything else we can come up with, destroying people with words has been and will continue to be a “thing.”
We need James’ wisdom today more than ever.
You see our words carry force. They create deep penetrating wounds in our souls when used as weapons. They also create healing and life when used for the sake of love.
I know that some of you are faux tough and pretend that words don’t hurt. But, trust me when I tell you we all know you’re lying.
Words matter. How we say them matters.
Every time we open our mouths we can choose to use our words in a way the blesses another and bring life or we can choose to use our words to curse another and bring pain.
What will it be?
I too often find myself using words as weapons. The snarky criticism rolls off my tongue with ease. I would be a liar to say they don’t. Too many times I find that what I communicate is my frustration and anger. My hunch is that more people know what I’m against as opposed to what I’m for.
I am trying to grow in this area, but it’s so very hard.
Amy (my wife) says that instead of always railing against something, someone, or some situation we need to think in terms of telling a better story. How can we invite our “enemy” and neighbor into a better story of pursuing love, relationship, kindness, and respect?
I think this is the next big step for me. It means that I need to be looking at the world differently and thinking about it in terms of the better story. It means that I need to be seeking to embody the better story that I want others to embody. We cannot invite others into something that we are not living out ourselves.
How about you? How are you doing at living out what James talks about here? Are you a life speaker or a curse maker?