Lashing the Tongue

Like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube after squeezing it out, words are things we wish we could take back sometimes, but can’t.  I remember once back when I was a teenager and I worked as a stock clerk in a department store. We had a manager there that nobody liked, and behind his back he was the target of some of our cruelest comments. I remember one time so vividly, where I was in the break room imitating him, and then finished off with the snarky comment “I want to be just like him when I grow up.”.  It was sarcastic and mean spirited and it got a great laugh from everyone in the room.

Later that day the manager I was lampooning asked me to do something, and just as I was leaving he said “I hope I’m not like you when I grow up.”.  My blood froze. I didn’t turn around to look at him or acknowledge what he said, but just the way he said it I knew someone hadn’t ratted me out; he had heard my remarks himself. Most likely he was outside the break room and heard me…heard the laughter as well.  That moment has had a lasting impression on me – and I wish I could say that it changed my speech habits from then on. It didn’t. I’ve had plenty of words to regret since then…but that’s not going to stop me from a determination to control my words in a way that cooperates with what God is up to.

Language is such a powerful gift that God has given us, and James puts the focus on our speech habits in the passage we’ll be reading this Sunday, James 3:1-012.

Why do you think James gives this warning to teachers just before he challenges us on how we communicate with each other?

Like most of James’ writing, it needs very little explanation (I’ve been wondering lately if the best way to teach James would be to read the passage out loud, then sit in silence for about 10 minutes and let everyone absorb it).  What ways have you experienced the destructive power of words? How have you felt when words were used against you? How have you felt when you realized your words were the problem?

V9-12 are very interesting to me. I’ve often had this presented to me as “if your words are rotten, your heart is rotten too!”. But I’m not exactly sure that’s what James is saying. He’s using pictures of contradiction. How can lemons be growing on apple tree? The New Testament picture of a believer’s heart is one of redemption. If any man is in Christ he’s a new creation, the old stuff is gone, all things are new.  If we consider that salvation and redemption mean our inner person has been renewed, even though we have to struggle with old habits and patterns from our old lives – does that effect how we read v9-12?  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

This is a challenging section of Scripture….be prepared to wrestle this Sunday!  Also, it’s Surf-N-Grill time again! If you haven’t been baptized and want to make that commitment this Sunday, come see me between 1st and 2nd service in the coffee house and let’s talk about it!

Published by Rob Woodrum

I serve as a pastor among the people of Eastgate Christian Fellowship in Panama City Beach, Florida. I'm not very good at it, but it's what God has called me to I do.

8 thoughts on “Lashing the Tongue

  1. I wonder if this isn’t the most over looked behavior in our entire set of behaviors. Overlooked by us. It is easy to say, “well I better not steal, or kill.” Those seem obvious. If they aren’t, then we assume our battle is already lost.

    I know of many people who are both friends and foes, christian and otherwise, who I would say, and they would say of themselves, are really good, decent, caring people. But the things that come out of their mouths for the slightist disagreement astounds me. Like your example, ever try to apologize for those words? How convincing is “I REALLLLLYYYY didn’t mean it.”

    I have been reminded by One Who Knows when I am ready to let someone know just how wrong they are (a nice way of saying how right I am), that He dismissed the very same thing in me. In fact, He doesn’t even remember it. He doesn’t have to remind me of the price He paid for my dismissal, I don’t think I can forget it.

  2. I’ve always had reverence and respect for words. They have the power to soothe or cause pain, motivate or manipulate, encourage or discourage.

    “A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds.”

    I love that James uses this analogy (mainly because I have a thing for ship analogies when it comes to life).

    Words are so powerful, so much so that they can steer the direction of our day, our perspective on life, our interactions with friends or people in the check-out line at the grocery store.

    My days go so much better when I decide to interact positively with people. I notice when I set a course to so, my day is filled with successful interactions with the people around me (even those that I don’t know). I find that strangers turn into comrades if only for a minute.

    I put my foot in my mouth on a daily basis (maybe hourly) and feel like an idiot frequently, but I find comfort in the fact that perfection is unattainable:

    “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.”

    I can only endeavor, one day at a time, to make sure my rudder is steering me in the right direction.

  3. At times I feel like a lemon tree growing apples, my heart belongs to God but I sometimes wonder who my tongue belongs to. When I say something that I shouldn’t I then have tho stop and pray. I think we are creatures of some bad habits at times and I for one have to keep going back to ask God for his help. But I don’t believe that this means I an bad at heart.:-)

  4. In v 9-12, I think James is giving examples of contradictions to teach us not to be contradictions ourselves. How can new creatures in Christ be hurtful and loving? How can gentleness and kindness come from the tree of bitterness? The world doesn’t need more confusion, but clarity of who Jesus the Redeemer is.

  5. P. S. brother Jimmy is gently trying to show us a better and more mature way. His mission is to reveal God’s plan and how we can be a part of bringing the world to redemption. We grow the best through relationships and we can reveal that redemption by keeping our tongues quiet when we are hurt by words. The world will see we are different because we act differently. God wants to save us from regrets. I have plenty of regrets since my divorce and looking back oh how I wish I had been more mature. This scripture brought up so much pain and regret and I had to really nail all that to the cross to keep the healing process going. I desire wisdom and maturity so much and ask for it all the time. This scripture gives me hope and excitement that I can be a grown up and part of what God is up to!

  6. Such awesome comments! Proof of the power of words. Words can encourage or discourage, bring peace or panic, life or death…I have on more than one occasion spewed out some pretty ugly stuff that has caused me to wonder what is wrong with me? Wondering if my heart really is rotten like Rob mentioned…It would seem after x amount of time being a christian that “stuff” would be gone! Clearly we all deal with that or James wouldn’t be talking about it. It seems we’re in good company given Paul’s description in Romans about this war that is going on inside of us. Even he said he sometimes did the stuff he didn’t want to or we could say, said things he shouldn’t have. As long as we are in these bodies on this planet I believe we will be in a battle with our old nature…When we gave our life to Christ our past was wiped away immediately and we were given a new start. A re-do if you will. We won’t however become like Jesus overnight. There will be a conflict between our old and new nature that we have to actively fight. Our journey is described in the new testament as a race or a fight not leisurely walk in the park. Racing and fighting are action words…they imply a determination to stay the course. When we fail we are reminded that we can not do this without our King our coach so to speak…When we say or do something hurtful the Holy Spirit within us convicts our heart and we recognize our sin. That conviction lets us know that God is working in us and should be an encouragement to us rather than a source of condemnation…nothing is wrong with us because we failed, we are human and we will fail ..the good news is our coach has not given up on us. He is at work molding and shaping our character so that our words and actions bring life and not death to the world around us. We will be His work in progress until he takes us out of here! James said if any man does not stumble in word he is perfect…perfect there means that which has reached an end or is complete or whole. It denotes maturity in believers..It seems when we are first begin our journey we are eager to get involved, give to the needy, volunteer at church, etc. And I know with all we offer to God, He is well pleased. As we mature, He goes deeper. Those random acts of kindness become simple and second-nature so to speak. We get great pleasure involving ourselves in those “God” activities, but let a co-worker or family member hurt or anger us and we fly off at the mouth like the best of them! These are the next level of opportunities He is using to grow us up. Thankfully, God provides situation after situation or chance after chance for us to embody our new nature, His nature…He whispers, I’m with you, I’m on your team, with Me this is possible!! He can help us speak life as we yield to Him.
    James’ warning to leaders in the beginning is absolutely sobering.. Perhaps he warns them first because of their sphere of influence is so much larger than most of ours. Their audience of Many can be helped or hurt by the words they speak. Maybe James mentioned leaders first to get us thinking about sphere’s of influence. It is easy for us to imagine a church congregation being influenced by the message a pastor speaks and the gravity of that. Do we consider the message we speak to our own sphere’s of influence though? We converse at work, in the marketplace, at organizations, clubs, sporting events, and especially at home (ouch)!! Are the words we speak in all these places bringing life to those around us…The good news is, with our Helper we can make every conversation count!!!
    Sorry this is soooo long…this section of James is very convicting yet encouraging to me as well…

  7. Just on the way home from church I was shocked how many times is said of my own comments, “That wasn’t very nice, was it?” I read the article mentioned in the sermon, “My Month of No Snark” and was writing in my journal today, ‘Help me to speak from the new heart You gave me, such a beautiful gift.’ and POW, right between the eyes.

    When gifts are given, first we like to see them, not stuffed in a drawer or closet, but out where it can be seen. Secondly, we like the gift to be appreciated, valued. And lastly, we enjoy seeing the gift being used for it’s intended purpose. I knitted a blanket for our first grandchild. Our daughter has sent photos of our precious baby carefully positioned on the blanket in her best duds. I would not be so happy to see photos of our son-in-law using the blanket to clean the white walls of his treasured car. This is the ‘POW’, the hard part when it comes to the heart, drawing from this beautiful gift in such a way our speech is a blessing not a curse, a refreshing spring. (No snark zone)

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