Read James 3:1-12
1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)
James is making a transition in his letter. He has been talking about letting what we do speak to our faith. But now he wants to focus on our words. He begins this transition with talking about teachers. In the early church, teachers were revered. When Paul listed the gifts of the Spirit, teachers were usually listed right behind apostles. Apostles were itinerant, travelling the world to share the gospel. Teachers stayed in one place. It was up to them to help the new converts grow in their faith. And so bad teachers were warned about in various letters in the Bible.
James then makes a transition to the tongue by first reminding us that we all stumble in some way. It is not always intentional when we sin, but we all fail at one point. He then says if someone is perfect in his or her speech, then they are a perfect person. I think he is saying in another way that we all say something wrong at one time or another. I know I have wished I had not said some things in my life to certain people.
When we look at today’s world of social media and people able to comment on news articles, we can see what James is talking about. Today, people feel that they can make horrible comments about anything than in times past. People seem to hide behind the anonymous nature of being able to sit at a computer or on their cell phone to say these not very nice things. People seem ruder today in stores. And this pandemic we are going through is only making it worse.
And words have a way of hurting people deeply. James reminds us of that when he says that while it is a small part of the body, it can do great good or great harm. His reminder is for us who believe that both good and bad words should not come out of the same source. Jesus taught this. In Matthew, we find this teaching of Jesus:
10Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'"
12Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?"
13He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
15Peter said, "Explain the parable to us." 16"Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. 17"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matt 15:10-20)
Our words matter. As believers, they also are being watched by others. James is very direct in wanting us to look at how we actually speak to one another and the world. One of my greatest heart aches is to see what Christians post on social media. I have wondered at times how they can praise God on Sunday and say the things later that day on Facebook.
Do you consider your words as a sign of our faith? When angry, how do you control your words? This is where many of us fail, speaking in anger. I have messed this up many times.
Blessings and Peace