So much talking these days – on the news, over the phone, in person (with social distancing, of course). And all of these words primarily revolve around COVID-19 and rightfully so. What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? How are we to respond? We are literally encountering the power of the words of others. Because of the words of others, students cannot attend school, employers cannot work, and others cannot leave their homes. Words carry power. Words can both protect and preserve. And James, himself, illustrates this for us in his third chapter of his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.
But before jumping into James 3, let’s consider the words of others. Yes, right now, we are eagerly listening to the words of the governor and other leaders regarding the limitations due to COVID-19. My boss even yesterday said he has never received so many emails in his life. So yes, we (as people) are talking and often have much (and usually too much) to say. And yet, let us not forget that God himself is both the first to speak in history and the most important speaker in our lives. Genesis 1:3 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” God himself creates with words. That is how important words are; the universe is created by them. And yet, man is also deceived not by the words of God, but by the words of Satan in the garden (think Genesis 3). Satan’s words both contradict and twist’s God’s Words. So yes, words carry immense power – both for life (God’s creation) and for death (Satan’s deception).
So how do we respond with our words? Well, the first verse of chapter 3 of James has had an incredible impact on my life. God used James 3:1 to literally direct me to leave my job in ministry and pursue seminary. Yes, check out James 3:1 if you haven’t already done so. Convicting right? James says, “Not many of you should become teachers…we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). The weight and responsibility of teaching God’s Word should cause us all the more to walk in greater humility before God and his people, seeking the Spirit to equip us for the good gospel work of teaching.
James then backs up the great responsibility of teaching God’s Word with recognizing the opportunity for sin due to the destruction caused by words. Verse 2 highlights that we will all struggle with what we say (and how we say it). Look at verse 2, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). Does this verse remind you of another verse in this book? Yes, James 1:26. Turn over to it in your Bible or pull it up on your device. I’d recommend using a Bible though if you have one (more on that in a future post). James says that if you don’t bridle your tongue, your religion is worthless. And yes, this bridling of our tongue is a process in our lives as Christians, but that’s just it, we must recognize where we need to grow, less we deceive ourselves (and others).
And then James continues to build his argument with not just telling us about the power of words but showing us. Yes, he gives us three illustrations in verses 3-6 to show us that the tongue carries great power. The control of a horse and a ship, both driven by such a small element. The fire that spreads uncontrollably yet just starts with a small flame. And so too, with our words, our words carry such power for our whole bodies and thus our lives.
Given the power of the tongue, James warns of our inability to tame it ourselves in verses 7-10. Take a look at James 3:8. James says, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). I know of a few dogs who are tamed really well, and I thank their owners for that. But for all of the tamed dogs (and children for that matter), James basically says, ‘Good luck, but you’re not going to be able to tame the tongue like you can tame your golden retriever or your young toddler.” And yet, if we are honest, we use our words both to bless God and then to hurt others (James 3:10). This predicament reflects our hearts. Friends, our words don’t just need to change, but rather our hearts. And the gospel promise for believers is that the Spirit transforms our hearts, which thus overflows through the words we speak out of our redeemed hearts.
So this is the good news. There’s hope for us. God gives grace for all of the destructive words we have spoken and all of the destructive words we have believed. And God provides wisdom in himself that brings peace rather than chaos. James contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God in James 3:13-18. May we be those who seek wisdom from God that is “…first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). In all of the words we hear today, primarily about COVID-19, we must remember that we know the One who has spoken and continues to speak, the one who has authority over all. Let us quiet ourselves before Him that we may both hear from Him and speak of Him. And yes, that’s all I have to say. Enough words for today from me, anyways.