In today’s passage, James uses strong words to describe the tongue. He says it’s a match that can start a wildfire—a fire that originates in hell. He warns that our “tongue,” or speech, is the one animal that can never be tamed.
Is James right? Are we unable to control ourselves? Is our language doomed to be as damaging as he describes? Certainly our language has the power that James suggests. Language has the power to create new emotional realities and to rip all hope of peace from us. The language we use to describe events creates the framework through which our spouses and children view the world. Words are incredibly powerful.
If our primary objective is to stop the flow of negative words, then, yes, James’s images ring true. When we harbor ill feelings toward others but try to hold them back, in time the dam will burst; we will spew bitterness and frustration onto those around us. Alternatively, we may successfully control our words, but our negative emotions will smolder internally, fueling deeper anger and poisoning our own souls. If we want to control our tongues, we must first address our hearts.
Luke 6:45 tells us that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. To change our words, we must address the deeper emotions of our hearts. Are we speaking from a place of pain or out of the longing of an unmet need? Let us reflect on our emotions and make peace every way we can, first with God, and then with our neighbors.
We can heed James’s call to tame the powerful beast that is our tongue. But first, we must resolve the undercurrent of emotions in our hearts.
Lord, heal our hearts so we can control our speech. 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 can you hear Wisdom’s call? What keeps you from answering?
• Read Psalm 19. How do your words and your heart’s meditations reflect your faith? Do you think God finds them acceptable?
• Read James 3:1-12. Consider your words. Do they honor the image of God in those to whom you speak?
• Read Mark 8:27-38. When has God called you to be silent? Were you better able to hear an unexpected call from God?
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