James 3:1–12 (NIV)
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or 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. 5 Likewise, 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. 6 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.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
What we say has the power to change the world. “I have a dream,…” said Martin Luther King, and segregation in the USA was removed.
Words are powerful. If you tell a person they are “useless” often enough they will eventually believe they are useless – especially if you’re in a position of authority and/or power over them.
What parents tell their children will often be believed. What a teacher teaches his or her students has the potential to change the future of the world.
St James says that, Not many of you should become teachers … “Teacher” here in James is a technical term for “pastor”. The teacher is one who imparts important truths and has great responsibility – as do all who speak from any position of leadership.
What God wants us to realize is that the Word of God, which He desires we share with the world, has power to bless and power to curse.
What we say and how we speak affects the lives of those who hear. Jesus spoke gently to the sinners and sufferers who knew no better but strongly to those who knew God’s law and who should have known better.
When we tell a lie, gossip, and or bad mouth someone we injure them and break the 8th commandment. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” Or more plainly, “Do not tell lies about anyone.”
In the Small Catechism, Dr Martin Luther says, “We should honour and love God so we should not tell lies about other people, give their secrets away, talk about them behind their back, or damage their reputation in any way.”
And this is the most important part, “Instead, we should speak up for them, say only good things about them and explain their actions in the kindest way.”
St James points out to us that, 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with (the tongue) it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.
In the Divine Service on Sunday mornings, in our devotions, Bible Studies and prayer we use our tongues to praise God, to proclaim His Son, Jesus, to the world. And yet, it is with the same tongue we, “snap” at our children, argue with our spouse, call another motorist a “jerk” and the like.
As St James says, with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Sure, they might be weak and sinful, as we are, and as humans we all bear something of the likeness of God – which is not to be cursed because it belongs to the Creator God. (And God doesn’t make junk.)
Jesus was cursed for us. He felt all our cruel words, the jibes of the crowd at His trial, the false witness against Him, the rejection of those He loved when we denied knowing Him. As we look to Jesus we hear how He put the best construction on what those who crucified Him when He prayed, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
As we look at the life of Jesus as He walked this earth we hear how He used His tongue to comfort – Jesus told Mary and Martha their brother would rise again from the grave.
And to heal: Jesus said to a blind man in Luke 18 “Receive your sight,…” and his eyes were opened.
And to encourage and to teach – the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. As Christians, especially those of us who carry the responsibility of teaching: parents, grand-parents, school teachers, employers, pastors, we are to encourage. Jesus has entrusted us with a great responsibility.
Some might say our responsibility is too great, because, as St James reminds us, We all stumble in many ways. Have we not all put our foot in our mouths? Some of us do it regularly, perhaps even with good intentions – saying things we later regret because of the hurt and pain our words leave behind.
There’s a story told of St Francis of Assisi. He received a visit from a woman who confessed that she was guilty of malicious gossip. She asked St Francis what she could do to be forgiven.
St Francis told her to pluck a goose and lay a feather from it on the doorstep of each of the homes of the people about whom she had said malicious things.
The woman went away and did what she was instructed to do. Then she returned to St Francis to see what else she would have to do. He sent her back to gather up all the goose feathers she’d placed on the doorsteps. But when she went to gather them up they had been blown all over town and many were un-retrievable.
She returned again to St Francis and he said to her, “…you may wish to repent, and that is good, but you can never recall the words you have spoken. They have gone on their way, doing harm.”
So we see the loose tongue of a moment has far reaching and long standing consequences. We must be careful what we say, how we say it and to whom we say it so that we can honour what Jesus said about, “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
What does Jesus say to God about us? He knows how we use our tongues – what we say which reflects what’s in our hearts. It’s good for us that Jesus puts the best construction on our lives and says to Father God, “I died for them!”
Jesus puts the best word forward for us. Praise God for that, otherwise we’d be going to experience the fires of hell, far worse than that often created by an unbridled tongue.
For Jesus best word on our behalf we’re empowered by His Holy Spirit and enabled to speak good pure words to each other. And what’s more we’re able to bear the fruit of the Spirit, Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
Jesus purifies our heart so that we can speak words of hope to each other. Let’s do it!