Reminiscent at times of Proverbs, James is a collection of practical admonitions that encourage wise living while using literary techniques along the way for emphasis. Here James focuses specifically on the lack of wisdom often reflected in our communication with one another. Using hyperbole, the author suggests that “anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect,” meaning none of us is free from this struggle. Talk about practical!
James has an urgent, prophet-like tone to his writing, speaking about our speech in metaphors like bits in horses’ mouths, rudders on ships, and forest fires started by sparks. Designed to underscore the seriousness of the issue, James’s harsh language is at times jarring, referring to the tongue as an evil, deadly poison that is “set on fire by hell.” In truth, as jolting as those words may be, all of us can attest to how upsetting it is when wounding things are said to us or words aren’t spoken when they need to be. Either is a misuse of our gift of speech. And likewise, we all know that there are times when we have deeply hurt others by painful things we’ve communicated or by a deafening silence we perpetuated when something needed to be said and we chose to remain silent.
The culmination of James’s admonitions leads to the troubling inconsistency of using our tongue to bless God while cursing our fellow human beings who are made in God’s image. It’s not just that one seems to contradict the other; speaking ill of others, who are made in God’s image, is comparable to cursing God. At times we live our lives compartmentally, praising God one moment while degrading others the next. It comes full circle. To do one is likened to the other.
Help us, God, to recognize how blessing one another through our words is a way to love and praise you—and loving you, and being loved by you, leads to our capacity to love others well. It comes full circle. Amen.
Through the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God shows the paths of righteousness and warns against the ways of destruction. The writer of Proverbs describes this as the voice of Wisdom crying out, yet some refuse to listen—to their peril. The psalmist rejoices in the law of the Lord, for God’s decrees teach us how to live well. Living a godly life includes paying attention to our speech. How can we, James asks, praise God with our lips and then curse others with those same lips? Peter is tripped up by his words in Mark. He declares Jesus to be the Messiah, yet in the next scene he recklessly rebukes Jesus for speaking of his death. Our words matter, and God desires purity and consistency.
Read Proverbs 1:20-33. How clearly do you hear Wisdom’s call? What prevents you from answering that call?
Read Psalm 19. Where in creation do you hear God speaking to you?
Read James 3:1-12. How do you use your words in wise ways? When do you struggle with your words?
Read Mark 8:27-38. Who do you say that Jesus is?
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