In this passage (James 3:1-12) that was read to us today, we are invited to an engagement where James is reminding us of the blessings and dangers of one important organ that God Has given us. It is the tongue – small but wrongly used it could bring curses; properly used it could bring blessings. James likens the tongue to a little rudder that is able to steer a big ship by just a slight movement. James also reminds us of how a small flame can set the whole forest on fire. A tongue, therefore, is like a small flame of fire which can turn the world into real fire.
Where does the tongue then get it’s venom? We know that a fresh water spring does not produce salt water. We also don’t expect a salt water to produce fresh water. The challenge, then, is to deal with the source and to turn what would be a curse into a blessing. God is able to change this if we are willing to listen.
This reminds me of the story of Balaam who was told to go and curse the people of God by King Balak, but God turned what was to be a curse into a blessing. Balak, the King of Moab, summoned Balaam and commanded him to go and curse the people of God. But on his way, his donkey was stopped by the angel with a sword. At first Balaam could not understand why the donkey had stopped. He tried everything to make it move, including beating but it would not move. But, it could speak.
First Balaam could not believe that the donkey was talking. Eventually he saw the angel with a sword and his mission ended. We read this from Numbers chapters twenty-two to twenty-four. We also read of the prophet Elisha cursing the boys for jeering at him, “Go up you baldhead. Go up you baldhead.” Elisha was annoyed and he turned around and cursed them and two she-bears came from the woods and killed forty-two boys (2 Kings 2:22-25). From these two stories we can see word coming from the little organ called the mouth and that it can quickly kill or bless.
We know that a tongue is important because it enables someone to speak. We know there are other things that work together in order for the voice or sound to come out. As we think about the tongue I am reminded of a common joke to more parents. “Parents spend the first three years trying to get their children to speak and then they spend the rest of their young lives trying to make their children slow down and listen.”
I do believe that the power that comes with speaking cannot be underestimated. Many prophets, often in the Old Testament, were called upon to speak blessings or curses. As we mentioned earlier, there is the story of King Balak of the Moab and the Prophet Balaam. Instead of cursing the people of God he blessed them (Numbers 22:21ff). Indeed, words have power and people need to be careful about what they say. Even animals have ways to communicate and they understand each other. It’s always good to be aware of the dangers that come with an untamed tongue.
The untamed tongue is known for:
- putting others down
- false teaching
- and more.
We need to remind ourselves that when words are spoken we can’t bring them back. The damage is already done. Like an arrow, it kills from a distance (such as rumors). Three things that you can’t get back:
- spent arrow
- spoken words, and
- lost opportunities.
The question we need to ask today is how can we tame our tongues so that what we speak can be a blessing, not a curse? As I share in this topic, I am reminded of what we call The Four-Way Test in the things we think, say, or do as a Rotarian:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
There are three ways that we can help ourselves before we speak:
1. Is what I am about to say true? What constitutes a truth in your version? How much truth do I need to speak now because too much truth may cause more damage than we expected. Speaking the truth with no love will not help the situation either. Someone confessing their mistakes at the wrong time to the wrong people may cause more damage than good. But once we speak what is truth somewhere down the road, we will be building bridges. We also know that truth will set us free. a suppressed truth will always hurt.
I read a little children’s story where the moral was to always tell the truth. In this story were two siblings – children. I believe both were less than ten years old. They had gone to visit grandma and grandpa out in the country. Grandpa had made a sling shot for the little boy. He spent most of the afternoon trying to shoot the bird, but he never could hit one. It so happened that when he had given up and was on his way to the house he saw Grandma’s only duck. He aimed at it and, as luck would have it, the shot hit it in the head and it died instantly. The sister was there with him. The boy tried to hide the duck. He pleaded with the sister to never tell Grandma. That afternoon, Grandma wanted help with shutting the gate of the cow pen and asked the granddaughter if she could help. The girl turned to her brother and said, “You go help or…” This continued for a number of days until one Sunday afternoon when Grandpa wanted the grandson to accompany him to the market to pick up a few groceries. The sister turned to his brother and said to him, “I am the one going with Grandpa or…” The brother could not take it any longer and he went straight to Grandma and told the truth of what had happened to her duck. Grandma looked at him and said, “I saw it happen from my kitchen window and I was wondering how long you would let your sister make you her slave?” That truth set the boy free.
2. Is it necessary? Some things are better not said, even though there is the urge to say them. We read of stories like when Mary, the mother of Jesus, discovered things about her son and she kept them in her heart. Before we speak we have to ask ourselves is what we are about to say is fair to all the people concerned. Sometimes we so badly want to even the score that we end up causing another imbalance. We are reminded of the story of Job. When he was going through suffering, some friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) came to be with him to support him and all was well until they started talking. They started accusing Job and blaming him for what was happening to him, yet we know from the previous verses that it is God who allowed the devil to do what was happening to him (Job 1:8ff). As people of faith we are advised to be wise about what we say for it might make more problems than not.
3. Is it kind? When we speak the truth let us do it in love. Words spoken in kindness, even when they are hard, will be understood. We are called to speak in kindness in all situations. Words of kindness are like ice on a hot, sunny day. We realize that kindness is part of what forms the fruit of the spirit. Let us try to show kindness every day, not only in words but also in deeds.
If we can answer these questions in our heads in an affirmative way, then we can go ahead with speaking. But if you are like me, maybe, and you speak faster than you think, you might find yourself saying things that you should not have said. The Bible reminds us that we should be slow to speak. “Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear; slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19). God gave us one mouth and two ears. Therefore, when you find yourself speaking what you should not have spoken, you will find yourself in trouble.
I believe I am more careless when it comes to my family than to other people and that is why, quite often, I get in trouble with my wife with what I say. Kindness in words and action should be the guiding post to our families and the body of Christ, the church.