Today’s Reading: James 3
If there is one book in the Bible that reminds us that our words matter, it is the book of James. In fact, the book of James has five chapters, and all five have something to say about the tongue. Let’s sample a verse or two from each chapter.
From James 1: “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. . . . If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (verses 19, 26).
From James 2: “Speak and so act as [people should]” (verse 12, AMPC).
From James 4: “Do not criticize one another, my friends” (verse 11, GNT).
From James 5: “Say only ‘Yes’ when you mean yes, and ‘No’ when you mean no, and then you will not come under God’s judgment (verse 12, GNT).
You might think I skipped chapter 3. I didn’t. James thought it wise to dedicate almost an entire chapter to the power of the tongue. Why? Because words matter. And that is James 3:
“Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
“A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
“It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
“This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!” (Verses 1-10, MSG)
My friend, this can’t go on. When James speaks about the tongue, he is telling us about our words. In the book of James, the tongue equals words. This is why it’s important:
Your words influence (verse 1). James says not to rush into teaching because you are held to a higher standard. Why are teachers held at a high standard? Because you are influential at vulnerable moments of people’s lives. You’re getting a blank slate to write on.
Your words reveal maturity (verse 2). James says the best way to see how mature someone is is not to look at their age, if they have gray hair, or if they have experience, but to listen to them speak. Listen to their word; their talking.
I think wise people talk less, not more. As Proverbs 17:27-28 (TLB) says, “The man of few words is wise; therefore, even a fool is thought to be wise when he is silent. It pays to keep his mouth shut.”
Your words make a difference. The tongue is little, but its effect is big. James gives four illustrations of this: the horse and bridle (verse 3); the ship and the rudder (verse 4); the forest fire and the spark from a match (verses 5-6); the animal and the animal trainer (verse 7).
What do these word pictures mean? Something so small can cause great damage if not under control. The tongue is small but the tongue can cause a lot of damage. Hearing a comment can hurt people and ruin a friendship. Being called a name can sink into someone’s soul and can make the person start believing the lie of that word.
I’ve heard it said, “Light travels faster than sound. That’s the reason most people appear to be bright till you hear them speak.”
Words really do matter.