We now come to a part of the James study that is a soap box of mine (also a toe stepper, I admit). The issue with the tongue.
Did you know that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body? It should be. We use it all the time. It is also the most powerful force on the planet. It can span generations. It can bring mass destruction. It can be the uplifting agent.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder where ever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes greats boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of this life on fire, and itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:3-6 NIV)
Wow! It is powerful. Think of the damage the wrong word has done. I admit that I usually come to this verse when I’m the one on the receiving in so let’s address that viewpoint first.
Pull out your notebook that you might be keeping during this study. Write an incident that happened within the last week where someone’s words either hurt or angered you. Think of what they said. Was it one phrase? Was it a dissertation? Was it just the way they said it? No matter how “big” or “small” the action was their tongue took, it was big because you could write it down. An example I have is from a relative that no matter what I cook, a comment has to be made on what could have been done to improve on it. Now, trust me I am humble enough to know that I’m only a semi-decent cook. I have a few lifetimes to go to get good. But you would like to hear a good compliment every now and again when you got out of your comfort zone and cooked something new or made an improvement or just was having a bad day. What do I get? Only how it could get better. If we really sat down and went over it, I could come up with a few novels on how to improve my cooking. But when those words come out of her mouth, all that can be heard by me and others is “not good enough”. The attitude then is not appreciating the fact that someone cooked a meal for you. It is putting someone down because they can’t get it right. When asked how a dish is and all you get is “Alright” in a casual manner, it speaks volumes. It cuts to the heart. I went through a mild depression because these words were spoken so often to me. I figured that I could do nothing right and that I was worthless. It took a lot of prayer and study to come out of that abyss. I still slip back in sometimes but I turn back to the Word and He pulls me back out. Did this example bring up memories of an “Alright” in your life? Do you see how one little word can make a world of difference?
Now, let’s take the other end. Your words can cut the heart. You can dish it out, too. And most of the time you don’t even realize it. You think that your reasoning is good, that you had an excuse, that you were just stating a fact. If the food was alright and not that great, do you think that as a Christian we are called to always point out when someone was not up to par? Do you like it? We just discussed how much we don’t like it. When someone’s emotions are at stake, answer truthfully and LOVINGLY. We always forget that last part. If you can’t answer lovingly, don’t answer. When asked if the meal was good, say “Thank you for taking your time to make this. It means a lot”. No matter how it tastes you should be thankful for this. Relationships have been destroyed based on a single word.
Parents are the worst here (ouch, that hurt me). We say things out of anger, distraction, or frustration and don’t stop to think of the large impact it has. Think of your teenage years and the words that flew between you that still hurt you today and shape the way your relationship is. You are now the parent and you are the one helping to shape that relationship. You are on dangerous ground when you don’t hand control of that tongue over to God. We need to think before we speak. James said earlier in 1:19 that we should be slow to speak. I have met VERY few people who do that. And they don’t care. If you claim to be a follower of Christ, you are under an obligation to control your tongue. It is not easy. James is attesting to that here. But it HAS to be done and it SHOULD be done. We are told to do so. Then why don’t more Christians focus on getting their tongues under control? We don’t want to. We want to speak our minds. We want to be heard. We refuse to be humble. We are on extremely thin ice here. Our very actions shape many people.
Have you ever seen the movie “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”? If not, please watch it. It is not a Christian film but it is appropriate. You learn the story of a family in which the actions of one and many have set to shaping not just the lives of those right there but those that haven’t been born yet or met yet. Your words today can have such titanic effects.
But they can also have titanic good effects. Your words (even one) could be the turning point in someone’s life.
We’ll continue this discussion in the next lesson, but I have an assignment for you today. Take your notebook and about every hour or so that your day will allow you with work and all make a note of your interactions with people and sum up what you said. Write down anything (ANYTHING) that could have been the spark of a fire. Write it down even if you agree that you should have said it. Just write it down. Then tonight re-read James and your normal Bible study. Then review that list again. Do this for several days. If you have an accountability partner, talk to them about it. They should be able to be LOVINGLY honest.