8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
We live in a strange era of human communication. I am not sure when it started, but it seems like just within my lifetime (47 years so far) that people have become remarkably crude in the way they talk about each other. I’m not just talking about the profanity-laced interchanges of our youth, but I have also seen a rise in the mean remarks we use even among friends. I guess you could call it “Yo’ mama” communication, where one friend insults another. I suppose it’s a way of diverting ourselves away from sensitive language and show some machismo, while at the same time thickening the skin of the person addressed. But I have to wonder, how did we ever get here?
When I was reading these verses in James’ letter this morning, I knew that I was every bit as guilty of such good-intentioned ribbing as anyone else. We all make a habit of pointing out others’ perceived “faults,” and then if someone really rubs us the wrong way, we cast aspersions on their very humanity. We insult our friends, rant against our enemies, and then in our prayers and worship we praise God with the very same tongue.
James is trying to tell us something very important here: the first fruit we ought to bear in righteousness is a sweet flow of words. If we can’t get that under control, then what makes us think we can get the rest of our worldly behavior under control? As our Savior said:
18 “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.
19 “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
When we speak profanity, it comes from our hearts. When we speak insults, they come from our hearts. When we speak evil against our perceived enemies, that, too, comes from our hearts. And if those dark things are inside us even just a little, it defiles us before God and it drives the Holy Spirit out of that part of our lives. If we are to embrace Christ completely, we need to, in the words of the apostle Paul, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14) And if we are supposed to bless our enemies, shouldn’t we also be blessing our friends? Once we get in the habit of kind speech, then it will be easy to follow Paul’s directive to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let us bless both our enemies AND our friends, and let’s leave the insults and meanness for the devil. After all, if we have accepted Jesus Christ, then He has already washed away all the devil can throw at us. So let’s start today to build up those around us, rather than tearing them down. Let’s use the very words we speak to share the grace we’ve been given by our Holy God.
Heavenly Father, I thank You today for Your grace and mercy, that while the accuser reviled us before You, Your Son came and died for us to wash us white as snow. Help me to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit through more than just deeds, but also in the very way I think and speak. Then may I lift up my voice in honest praise for the Father who is our God Almighty, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.