What Kind of Words
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses so they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at ships also: they are so large and driven by strong winds, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a great fire! And the tongue is a fire...staining the whole body and setting on the fire the enitre course of life and set on fire by Hell. For every kind of beast and bird...can be tamed and has been tamed...but no human can tame the tongue...With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not be so.” -James 3:1-11
Reality shows have been all the rage for many years. We are “keeping up” with certain families, swapping and interchanging parents into different families complete with their dynamics, as well as being exposed to the drama of dating in the adult world. (It seems high school has never ended!) Susan and I watch various cooking competitions in which cooks of all ages and talents complete to win fame and fortune. One of the most refreshing was a program in which youngsters competed in very challenging baking competitions for the coveted title of “Kids Baking Champion.” The first winner was a young girl from the town next to where I grew up. Personally, I thought all the kids were cute and fun! But what make the show special was that the group of competitors were close knit, encouraging each other, just a nice group of well mannered kids. Watching them was a refreshing departure from the usual TV programs where meanness and cruelty are the status quo.
Where are we in terms of our culture and how we treat one another? Many people have pointed out that they are increasingly unhappy and uneasy with the tone of discourse in this country. In addition, they are increasingly concerned about the future with the erosion of civility, manners and decency, and its impact on the next generation. There is little doubt that a spirit of “meanness” seems to be occurring through speech, tone and actions. This has increased exponentially with “anonymity” through social media. As I have shared before, I am amazed how politicized everything has become. Sadly, I seldom watch mainstream sports anymore. I used to participate in sports and avidly watched them, but I cannot “stomach” the recent politicizing of sports. Somehow the words of my high school coach, an intense, hard driving man: “Your focus is to be on the sport and nothing else.” seem to be passé. He also reminded us time and time again, that if you chose to talk “smack,” you had better make sure your performance in the field matched the words of your mouth!
Tradition has James being the half brother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is writing to remind us that in times of uncertainty, we are to be defined by the message of Jesus Christ, both as hearers and doers of the word. Then James tackles the issue at hand: the destructiveness of an uncontrolled tongue.
How many times have you heard someone say: “I’m going to give that person a piece of my mind.”, or “I had to put her in her place.” After meeting a rude person in public, a pastor friend of mine confessed that he was frustrated with the ‘pastor’ title “hanging around his neck like an albatross.” He said “Just once I would like to be just an anonymous face in a crowd; not a pastor, so that I could really tell that rude person where to go!” Is this really a Christian approach? Are we taught to retaliate, or get back at anyone who hurts or defames us? Several weeks ago in a sermon, I talked about the refusal by some Christians to be a “doormat.” Yet we also established how ambiguous and self-serving this can be if we depart from the teaching of scripture. Boundaries and respect are essential in the course of conduct for each member of the body, but we are also reminded we serve Jesus Christ, not ourselves.
What about outside the church? Do you realize that your conduct, your attitude, and your words may be the only Christian witness a person may see? That puts the situation into perspective a little clearer, doesn’t it? So what should our actions, attitudes and words consist of? Let’s consider what Paul reminds the church in Philippi to remember and observe: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourself...Have this in mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus: who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
You are made in His image and are expected to serve Him. Can you do that? The message is so counter-intuitive in today’s world. I encourage one and all to come before God in prayer as you are, but seek the gift of servitude for the kingdom. That is the cost of discipleship!
Yours in Christ,