James 3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
The ability to speak is an amazing thing. One of the Proverbs says that a word spoken well is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
James’ letter has the longest (continuous) section on speaking in the Bible. Sure, there are countless references to speaking, the tongue, words, etc. throughout Scripture, but James offers concrete ways to “tame the tongue.” The tongue, James says, has the ability to praise God and also to cut down a fellow believer. James says this earlier on his letter, “If anyone thinks that they are religious and does not keep a tight reign on their tongue, deceives their heart and their religion is vain.”
The tongue is a muscle. It can be trained. What we say and what we don’t say are both important. Proper speech isn’t only about saying the right words at the right time, but it is also controlling that desire to say something that we shouldn’t (and especially if we know we shouldn’t…) Gossip, slander, false teaching, exaggerating, complaining, and lying. These are examples of an “untamed tongue.”
Earlier in chapter three, James talks about the tongue being like a fire in verse six. And then uses a bunch of other images linking it to hell. Fire is dangerous. It’s a beautiful thing, for sure, but if it’s not in a controlled environment, it can get burn up everything. One of my favorite things about the fall as the weather gets cooler is sitting by a bonfire with friends. But before we even begin to enjoy this activity, we have to make sure that we create a boundary so that the fire doesn’t get out of control.
Every summer it seems, we hear about forest fires in California. We see them taking out everything in sight. Houses. Businesses. The damage that fires can do is crazy. The tongue is the same way. We can tear people down in a second.
With just one word.
Years of trust between loved ones can be destroyed with just one word. A business deal that you’ve been working on for months can end in just one second. In the heat of the moment, a parent can permanently damage a child’s self-confidence…
However, it is the Holy Spirit that gives us increasing power to monitor our speech. Controlling our speech is done by submitting to Christ. That’s inviting the rule and reign of God into your life. We can control our tongue only by the grace of God. Inviting him into that. Inviting him to your heart and mouth (cf. Matt 15:18-19)
Because we shouldn’t praise God and curse others with the same mouth. This is hypocrisy like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
We can’t go to church on a Sunday, and then start cursing out the bicyclist on Monday on our way to work. We can’t come to church on a Sunday, and then start gossiping about Mrs. So-and-So at lunch.
Most of discipleship happens outside of the church building. It’s funny that we’re typically on our best behavior on Sundays, but then we go back home (back to reality) where we can be our regular selves.
Living out a relationship with Christ and with others happens every day. Every moment. We are presented with opportunities all the time to bless or to curse.
See, we need to follow this Kingdom ethic. This is the new measure of righteousness. When we follow Christ, we are literally following him. We can’t just pick aspects of Christ that seem to fit with our ideas of Christianity. Following him, and really experiencing Christ, raises us to a new level of living. And not just on Sundays.
George Ladd says this, “The ethics of Jesus, then, are Kingdom ethics, the ethics of the reign of God. It is impossible to detach them from the total context of Jesus’ message and mission. They are relevant only for those who have experienced the reign of God…The unique element in Jesus’ teaching is that in his person the Kingdom of God has invaded human history, and [people] are not only placed under the ethical demand of the reign of God, but by virtue of this very experience of God’s reign are also enabled to realize a new measure of righteousness.”
James continues in chapter four saying, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
Often, when we lash out at people, we are doing it more out of our own brokenness. This is not speaking the truth in love to that person. This is coming from our own insecurities. But our security is in Christ. Our identity is in him. We have been transferred over into Christ’s kingdom. He is in us, and we are in him! That’s what James is saying. We shouldn’t be speaking the way that we are if we really are followers of Christ.
Let us bless and not curse. We have the ability to control our tongues so long as we continually surrender all aspects of our lives to Christ. Let us build one another up instead of tearing down. Let us point people to Christ.
Pretty much, let’s stop pointing out the flaws of every person that we see. Or every church that we see. Or every presidential candidate that we see…there should be a qualitative difference between our speech and that of the world.