Selected by reader, Jason Tilley from Texas
Words matter. As small as it is, your tongue is a powerful tool to build up or tear down another person. It gets that power from a much greater source; your mind. Thinking before you speak (or tweet) is quickly becoming a lost art.
Originally published, November 21, 2019, based on readings from 1 Chronicles 16 & James 3.
Scripture Focus: James 3.9-11
With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
Reflection: If You Can’t Say Anything Good— Readers’ Choice
By Jon Polk
Reading through James’ letter, one might get the impression that he has a pretty pessimistic view of our ability to control our speech with one another.
Without a tight rein on our tongue, our religion is worthless. (1.26)
No one is faultless in what they say. (3.2)
The tongue is a fire, a world of evil in the body. (3.6)
The tongue corrupts the whole person, set on fire by hell itself. (3.6)
The tongue is an untamable, restless evil, full of deadly poison. (3.8)
With our speech we curse one another. (3.9)
We slander and judge one another by our speech. (4.11)
We selfishly brag and boast. (4.16)
We grumble and complain against each other. (5.9)
Honestly, though, it sounds as if James could have been writing these words in 2019 rather than in the first century AD. And when he refers to our speech, we should certainly include our tweets, posts, and texts.
Before we start pointing our fingers at the world around us though, let us be reminded that James was writing not to unbelievers, but to an audience of those claiming to follow the way of Christ. Unfortunately, we know all too well based on our experiences (not the least of which is the unflattering stereotype of the church business meeting) that Christians can be the worst about using our words to wound rather than to speak grace and love.
We know this so well, in fact, that the Christian band Third Day turned James 3 into an unlikely #1 rock hit with the song, “Nothing At All”, from their debut album in 1996.
“Well, on and on and on and on and on it goes
Now look who’s the one playin’ the fool
Criticizing, telling lies, putting down
Ain’t you got nothin’ better to do?
But if you can’t say nothin’ good, don’t say nothin’ at all”
But wait! There is hope! James also says that with our mouths we can speak on behalf of God (5.10), pray for ourselves (5.13) and each other (5.16), sing songs of praise (5.13) and confess our sins (5.16).
When we learn to control our tongues, we can bring great teaching, healing and joy to many.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rule for the students of his seminary classes was that no one should speak about another student in their absence. Many of his former students admitted they frequently broke this rule, but they learned a great deal from their mistakes about the power of our words to damage the body of Christ.
Oh, how would our speech be different today if we tried to follow Bonhoeffer’s rule?
*Song, “Nothing at All” by Third Day
Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. — Psalm 119.14
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle
Read more about The Language of a Good Neighbor
The words we speak plant seeds that come from our hearts. When those seeds are violent winds, we reap the whirlwind of violent actions.
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