Have you ever gotten in trouble for something you said? Maybe you meant to say something else, you had good intentions, but in the heat of the moment you said something really stupid and the fall out was pretty bad? My son and I had one of the those conversations the other day, and finally I had to tell him to stop talking because every time he tried to explain his actions, the hole he was digging for himself got deeper. I wish I could say it’s a problem of youth that you will one day outgrow, but unfortunately it’s not an age-related problem. It’s one of maturity.
James picks up this very topic in chapter 3. He begins with a warning to teachers. In a time when the written Word was not readily available to parishioners, apostolic succession was extremely important. You wanted to know that the guy who was teaching you was taught by a guy who was somehow connected to an apostle. You wanted to know that he was teaching the truth. So teachers then (and now) are held to a higher standard because their word is often received as truth. Don’t blow it.
Then James hits us, all of us. Even though the tongue is a very small part of our body, like the flaps on an airplane, the steering wheel in your car, or the spark that starts a forest fire, it is arguably the most powerful part of our body. With it we can do great good, and with it we can also do unspeakable evil. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is dead wrong. Words do hurt. A lot.
James says that the ability to control our tongues is a mark of maturity. In fact, the person who is able to control his tongue is said to be able to control his whole body as well. Why is that? Because out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. And this side of resurrection, there is still a lot of garbage in our hearts. It’s easier to say the right things and respond in a kind way when life is cruising along and the expected happens. But when the wheels come off (remember the backdrop to the letter: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…), and they will come off, then we react and some very unkind things are said. We generally don’t respond well to the unexpected. James doesn’t just challenge us to respond well when the good times roll, he challenges us to respond just as well when the good times come crashing down. If our response is different based on circumstance then we are unstable, double-minded, the source of two very divergent streams of water.
Maturity comes as we seek wisdom in the midst of the trial to see it from God’s perspective, then we begin to understand that the testing of our faith is producing endurance that leads to maturity and the ability to control our tongue because the overflow of our heart will be love – for God and for our neighbor. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a life-long process of being smelted and refined in the Fuller’s fire to make us more like Jesus.
Until next time…stay salty.