Taming That Tongue
By Cheryl McCloud
I love the book of James. I often find myself opening the Bible to hear how James is speaking to me today. While the book has only four chapters, it regularly challenges me in so many areas of my life.
Whether it's facing the trials and temptations of life -- still working on considering those "pure joy"! -- or boasting about tomorrow as I make plans, or faith and deeds, I find James full of practical advice that applies to me as I go about a typical busy day.
And it's mind boggling to think that everything he says applies as much to us today as it did to those who lived more than 2,000 years ago.
I found myself lately considering again all of James' exhortations about taking control of what we say. He considered it so important that three of the four chapters mention watching what we say.
Many are familiar with James 1:26:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
Some versions translate worthless as vain. Strong's defines the word as devoid of truth, useless or of no purpose. Those are pretty strong words when it applies to our religion.
Most strong Christians I know are sure to get their hackles up if someone implies their religion is worthless or serves no purpose!
But James goes even further when he warns us what the tongue is capable of. James 3:6 says:
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
I can't think of anyone who can't point to at least one example -- and sadly probably multiple occasions -- where words have torn apart churches, families, friends.
What I think is even sadder are the occasions where the words that started the conflagration were spoken under the guise of helping, or "making you aware." It's such an easy trap to fall into.
I’ll be having lunch with a friend or talking at work and all of a sudden will realize that I’m talking about someone in a negative light.
Sometimes we’re not the ones who start the conversation in that direction, but we can easily find ourselves pulled in, offering our thoughts or opinions.
James 3:9 says that:
… with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.
"Oh, but I didn't curse so-and-so," is often a response. But when we talk about someone or about what they did or didn't do in a negative light, isn't that a curse?
God knows and God judges. How can we build up the church by criticizing someone when it’s not our place to do so?
James 4:11 is even more clear:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.
There’s Jewish folktale that tells the story about a man who felt bad about spreading lies. He was told that to make amends, he should cut open a feather pillow and scatter the feathers to the wind. Then he was told to gather all those feathers up … an impossible task.
We can’t take back words we utter. They go far beyond where we intended and the damage they leave behind can be – and often is – devastating. So remain vigilant and if you need to, put a feather on your key chain … or on your phone!