Taming the Tongue-2

Scripture:  James 1:26

Words have power.  There is no doubt about that. One need only remember the last time that someone said something to them that hurt them greatly or the last time they were completely immersed in a book or poem. If you would like more evidence, consider the creation story. When God created the universe, how did he do it? Did He grab a hobby kit? Did He whip it up in His divine kitchen? No. He spoke it into existence. Elsewhere in the Bible we find that God’s word is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is the discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Now if God’s words have the power to create worlds and split the soul, and we humans are created in the image and likeness of God our Father, must not our words carry some power as well? We may not be able to speak things into existence, but we are able to share our love and joy, grievously wound, or create cherished memories.

With the power of our words in mind, the observation is made in James 1:26 that if we think ourselves religious (for example: we go to church every Sunday, we tithe, we regularly help widows and orphans) but are not mindful of what we say on a daily basis, our “devotion” is little more than a barren delusion.  This sounds harsh, but let’s put it in some context.  Prior to this verse James stresses that we must be doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22-25).  Viewing verse 26 through this lens, we can see that James’ point is that watching our words is part of being a doer of the word.  We might also consider the parable of the two builders from Matthew7:24-27.  Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” addresses a wide range of issues, many of which deal with attitudes of the heart and involve the words we speak.  Jesus concludes the sermon by likening people to one of two builders:  people who take His teachings to heart and put them into practice are represented by the wise builder who builds his house upon a rock; people who do not take His teachings to heart and do not put them into practice (are only hearers of the word) are represented by the foolish builder who builds his house upon sand.  If we do all the “right” things, but are not mindful of what we say, we are essentially building our house on a mixed foundation, consisting of rock in some places and sand in others.  Although we may put in hundreds of hours constructing a beautiful, cathedral-like house, it will still collapse for lack of a solid foundation.

Fortunately, our speech can also be used to build up our relationship with God and our spiritual life.  Bridling our tongue doesn’t mean that we should strive for a lifelong vow of silence.  On the contrary, the Psalms command us to “make a joyful noise” to God and the people greeted Jesus in Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” and we are told to “confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord”.  There are many ways in which we can use our tongues to glorify God’s name ranging from song, to prayer, to refraining from “unwholesome” talk.

While it may seem like James is overreacting when he tells us that our speech can undermine our spiritual life, closer observation shows us that he may have a good, if unsettling, point.  Bridling our tongue is an important part of living a Christian life because what we say is as much a part of serving God as what we do.

Questions for Consideration:

1.)    In what ways have you experienced the power of words?

2.)    Have you ever thought that the words you say carry as much spiritual consequence as the things you do?

3.)    What are some ways that we might utilize the power of words in our pursuit of God?

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