In our Tuesday evening Bible study group we ended up studying James chapter three. “Look at the ships also though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.” (v. 4-6)
James uses an analogy that was common with the Romans and the Greeks. They were familiar with ships, rudders, winds and pilots and well understood the reality of what James was saying when he stated that very small rudders guided large ships. Forest fires were also common throughout the Roman Empire and the relationship of how a small spark could burn a large forest was not wasted upon his hearers.
It is hard to believe that the tongue can have the same affect upon our relationship with God as well as our fellow man as a spark has in starting a forest fire, but it does. How many relationships have been ruined by an unkind or cutting word? How often have we blurted out something in anger only to wish a moment later that we had held our tongue? All of us have said things that once spoken can never be taken back regardless of how much we wish they could.
I had a great aunt who believed it was her duty to speak her mind regardless of who was on the receiving end of her admonishment. Most of us in the family soon realized that she used her bluntness not to encourage us to do better but for spite. It was her way of unloading her frustration and disappointments in life onto the shoulders of others.
James has even more to say about the tongue and how we use it starting in verse 8, ”but no human being can tame the tongue-a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessings and cursing. My brethren, this ought to not be so.” James 3:8-10
I have to admit that I fall into this trap much too often. In the same day I can pray, teach, study and share the word of God, and then become angry over something I read in the newspaper and let my tongue run wild with criticism. We say things to each other that we would never say to God, but somehow think it’s fine to criticize the adopted sons and daughters of God while reserving our pious prayers for the Father.
Let’s be honest. We love to read the Bible and talk about it, but few of us are really willing to let it have dominion in our lives. We might agree with James that we need to control our tongues (really our thought patterns) but we make excuses for ourselves because we don’t. What would happen to our witness if we started weighing our words very carefully before we speak?
Writing this blog I have the opportunity to hear from people who have left the church or have become so discouraged that they just hold on to their faith by their fingertips. For some people doctrinal differences are the problem but for the majority they become discouraged because they feel the church isn’t what it proclaims to be. We say one thing but do the opposite. Our words sound hypocritical when we talk about love and compassion but end up talking negatively about each other.
James writes, “but the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (3:17, 18)
Could you imagine going to church or living in a family where the first concern is to follow the wisdom God wishes to bestow upon us. Look at the results of putting God’s wisdom and leading first in our lives. We become peaceable, gentle and open to reason. Have you ever been drawn into a discussion with an unreasonable person? That discussion soon becomes a senseless argument that does no one any good.
I long for peace in my life. When we look around the world we see so much conflict, hatred and war. I don’t need those conflicts in my family or the church I attend. If we wish to have a safe haven in the storms that swirl around us then we can begin by watching what we say and how we say it. We can go out of our way not to be the one who sparks the fire that turns into a forest fire. We can hold our tongue even when we know we are right. We can also resist the temptation to hurt someone with caustic and demeaning words. As representatives of Jesus on this earth we should take our calling seriously and be people of peace and love instead of conflict and selfishness. I know I need to grow in this area and by the grace of God I am going to be more aware of what I say. Why would we discourage our loved ones when we can encourage them?
* Please remember in prayer those who are persecuted for their Christian faith. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for updates on persecution of Christians