Ouch, we have reached James 3, the chapter that convicts me. James starts the chapter warning us not to rush to be teachers. I would like to think that he is not speaking about teachers as a profession but the temptation to consider oneself more knowledgeable and hence responsible to set another on the “straight and narrow, the right” path. That falls in line with chapter two on practicing favoritism, that is living by stereotypes that define one sort of person as better than another, and needs to be taught. In any case, teaching is when I open my mouth to share words of “wisdom” that I hope might help another. Parent to child, we think of correction and discipline. Between equals, teaching often feels more like criticism. We allow the worship leader to preach because the person is teaching from the Word. All those examples involve use of the tongue to communicate to another and so James has much to say about the tongue and its potential danger. In the shadow of the last chapter, talking about faith and works, perhaps we can consider the use of the tongue as an example of how our faith, a matter of the heart, works in the expression of the tongue, our communications.
Tongues can be so healing and constructive as shown by the example of a bit in a horse’s mouth. When my friend gives words of encouragement and affirmation, my heart is turned to health and life. The tongue used for good, motivates us (the Gettysburg Address, our leaders) and heals us (no cancer!). But likewise the tongue is used for gossip to destroy lives and motivate people to war and hate. I often find myself reflecting on orators today and pondering how what I am hearing is motivating me to act, to work. Am I being directed to life or death?
Interestingly Proverbs 21 for today also says much about the tongue. Verse 2 reminds us that we often think our words are right but God is looking to see if our heart is right. Verse 6 shares, “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.” Twice the writer warns about living with a wife who is quarrelsome and contentious. And verse 23 shares, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”
James pleads for consistency and the avoidance of duplicity. That is not unlike the image of the wave driven and tossed by the wind in chapter 1. There is no wisdom when we are tossed about and no blessing when our tongues are undisciplined. So today I ponder my role, not only as a teacher, but also as a wife, partner. To what extent do the words of my mouth reflect the faith of my heart? Does my speech build or is it idle chatter? As you go about your tasks today, I pray you will hear words that build you as you seek to live with others. Blessings.