Will Rogers, the late American humorist, once said, “People compare me and politicians. When I tell a joke, it’s a joke. When they tell a joke, it’s a law.” Words often affect people in our world by what is said and how it is said. So often in life, words can brings a joy or sorrow to one’s life.
In James 3:1-12, we are reminded that we are to use our tongues for the glory of the Kingdom rather than to tear others down. Have we ever said anything bad about someone else? Have we ever gossiped? A while back, I shared about doing no harm to others. Harm is not only a physical event, but it can be a verbal and emotional one as well. The old children’s saying of “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me” is a cute saying, but it is false. What others do say about people can and does hurt them. I want us to take a look a how we use our tongues.
A pastor friend of mine once reminded me that hurtful words can come from even the most loving, Christian person. We are reminded in James 3:2 that we all make mistakes, even in our speech. James reminds us that the one who makes no mistakes is perfect. The last time I checked, the only perfect person to walk this earth was Jesus Christ.
When words come out of our mouths, they are out there. Someone has heard or it has been written, and unfortunately at times, they cannot be taken back. We can try and apologize all we want, or maybe even think that what we said wasn’t bad, but words do cut deep. Trying to take back words is, as a good friend of mine once said, “like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t do it.”
If that is the case, then the writer of Proverbs shares this great wisdom with us: “With their mouths the godless would destroy their neighbors, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered” (Proverbs 11:9 NRSV). If we want to act godless, then let’s continue to tear down our neighbors. If we want to be God’s people, let’s build up each other in the knowledge that is shared with us.
Words not only heal or hurt, but they can lead people into all different directions. Have we ever listened to a person with so much charisma that they were or are able to get people to follow them or do as they say because of their personality and their words? We have seen this a lot in history. The Crusades of the Middle Ages were caused by one person building up such a fire to “free the Holy Lands from the infidels” that the Crusaders killed not only Muslims, but Jews and Christians as well. The same goes for the Holocaust. Hitler, through his words and the power with which he spoke those words, almost led to the extinction of an entire group of persons.
James tells us that unlike a horse that can be led by a bit and bridle or a ship guided by a small rudder, the tongue, though it is small, tends to make big boasts (James 3:3-5). Have we ever heard someone say or maybe even been guilty of saying, “Hey, look what I (or we) did?” The tongue is a strong muscle, but it is the weakest member of our body. The Bible tells us in James 3:6 that the tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity and is itself set on fire by hell. Verse 7 tells us that just as animals can be tamed, our tongues cannot. We have to pray that God will tame our tongues and use them to glorify and praise him.
With God’s help, our tongues can praise His name to the world rather than poison the lives of others. James 3:10-12 tells us that our mouths cannot truly do both blessing and cursing if we are disciples of Jesus. In order for us to do no harm to others around us, even within the body of the church, we have to decide to praise God in all that comes out of our mouths.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” We are to build up one another. So often we forget that.
A lot of times, the things we say that tear down comes out of times of anger. James 1:19-20 tells us, “You must understand this, my beloved: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” This verse reminds me that God gave us two hands and feet to do His ministry, two eyes to see where it needs to be done, two ears to hear the call for ministry, but only one mouth.
Proverbs 21:23 says “To watch over tongue and mouth is to keep out of trouble.” Sometimes keeping our mouths closed is better than tasting one’s foot in their mouth.
In all things, our words, as well as our actions, should build up others for the Kingdom. The writer of Psalm 71 says in verses 15-16, “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge. I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD; I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.” We should be telling of all the things God has done, even though they are more numerous than we know.
Paul tells us in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” So whenever we speak, our words should add flavor to one’s life helping to improve where they are.
As we go about our lives each day, we are in our mission fields where there are persons around us constantly. They could be family, friends, neighbors, brothers or sisters in the Kingdom, all of whom need to hear the Good News in their lives, not gossip or cursing from us. How do you feel when someone tells you they appreciate what you have done or tells you that you have done a good job? Most people are built up when they hear those things. People especially long to hear three simple words, “I love you.” People want to know they are thought of and supported.
Michael Phelps, who just set an Olympic record with eight gold medals, was amazing to watch during the medley swims. He was shown cheering on and supporting his teammates as they swam, encouraging them to do their best. That is what God is calling us to do each day — encourage one another, share the good news of Christ with those around us — even those who may already have heard the message, for they may need to be refreshed in their souls.
Today, I encourage you that if you are having a hard time with your tongue and it constantly flips between praising God in your life and cursing others like a wild fire, then take the time as you finish reading this to ask God to help your tongue be for praising Him so that you can love those in His image and use that love this and every day.
Robert Amundsen is the pastor of the Evarts Congregational United Methodist Church and the Wallins United Methodist Church. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org