Taming the tongue
James 3: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue.
A person can live a good life, honest and sensible, committed to doing good things and yet still have a tendency to say things that aren’t very Christian. One problem is that we see sins of speech as less serious than sins of action. People who would never dream of robbing anyone of anything will thoughtlessly gossip about another, thereby robbing them of their reputation. Sins of words are slippery, hard to pin down. A person might say something that’s absolutely innocent. The listener, though, misunderstands the meaning, hearing something that isn’t there at all. Another person might say the same thing but intend it to be hurtful in some way. In one case it’s just a misunderstanding. In the other case it’s sin. James emphasizes the fact that no one can win the battle of the tongue. Try as I might, in and of myself, my words will betray, humiliate, and condemn me. On the surface, it appears James leaves us in this sorry state of affairs. However, a different picture is painted as I read these words in the context of the passage. James says, “My friends this can’t go on.” A few paragraphs later he describes the Christian community as a place where people are treated “with dignity and honor.” On one hand, I can’t control my tongue (or my thoughts, or, sometimes, my actions). The only hope I have is to surrender my tongue to the Lord. As I give it, and my whole self, to him, making him Lord of my life, he goes to work transforming me into the person he wants me to be. It’s a more than one time surrender. In fact, I may have to bring my tongue back to the Lord on a regular basis. As I do that, he takes control doing for me what I can’t do for myself.
Take Away: “I surrender all” is a song that needs to be sung repeatedly.
Maybe instead of Weight Watchers we need to join Word Watchers
Mark 7: Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you?
The Old Testament Hebrews had lots of rules and regulations about diet and an admirable trait of cleanliness. The Pharisees of the New Testament take all that to the extreme. When some of the disciples eat without going through their prescribed pre-meal washing ritual the Pharisees complain about it to Jesus. Our Lord responds in force, challenging these men who know better about how they play fast and loose with God’s Laws when it suits them. Later on, he tells his disciples that worrying too much about what we put into our bodies while ignoring the words and actions that “come out” of our bodies is rather stupid. To state it delicately, what enters through the mouth exits elsewhere. However, what comes out of the mouth has its source in the heart. So, I wonder what it is that comes out of my heart. Are my words pure or impure? Do I lift people with my words or do I demolish them? What comes out of my mouth tells more about me than what goes in. Maybe instead of joining Weight Watchers I need to join “Word Watchers.”
Take Away: I’ll learn a lot about myself if I listen to the kinds of things I say.
Communicating with kindness
Proverbs 15: Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.
Several years ago I started watching a news talk show on CNN named “Crossfire.” Every day a conservative and liberal team of hosts interviewed a guest who was caught in their “crossfire.” Depending on the guest, one host played “good cop” and the other played “bad cop.” I found the show to be unique and interesting. That program has influenced a lot of TV news and we see programs similar to it all the time now. Aside from TV though, I don’t think “Crossfire” influenced society as much as it reflected society. Kindness and gentleness is out and “Telling it like it is” is the approach of the day. On the internet I’ve seen people who I’m sure are fine, caring Christians in person who can however, when on line, cut and slash with their words without mercy. I think there’s a great need for kindness in society. Most people don’t need to be put in their place nearly so much as they need to be treated as people of value. Whether we’re talking about how we conduct ourselves while driving in traffic or how we speak to the slow moving clerk at Walmart God’s people ought to lead the way in this. We’re to be “helpers” and “healers” and not “wounders” and maimers.”
Take Away: When under pressure or when somehow operating “out of the box” our words are windows to our hearts.