Text: James 3:1-18
“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” —James 3:10 ESV
Recently our 12-year old daughter got braces on her teeth. I was surprised to learn that nowadays you can change the colors of your braces during routine appointments. Had they done that when I was a kid, I may have worn my braces much longer! It’s amazing how technology can straighten out the appearance of our mouths, but straightening out the flow of our mouths—more specifically the use of our words—is a far greater task.
When was the last time you spewed forth some words that you went on to regret?
In James 3, the writer establishes the general principle that small things can bring about big outcomes, and then more specifically applies this to the power that the tongue has over the entire course of one’s life (James 3:1–12). Bits in a horse’s mouth and the small rudder on a ship are examples of very small things that control large objects. He goes on to explain that all kinds of creatures have been tamed by mankind, yet “no human being can tame the tongue… it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8). Ouch!
The tongue, one of the smaller organs of the body, has control over everything a person is and does. A person’s words reflect his or her character and thus are a key to his or her whole being.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon gave some wise instruction—spiritual braces—to encourage us in keeping our words straight. He wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1), and “a gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
Remember the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? What a lie that turned out to be! Words do hurt. They can break a spirit. As a child I was a victim of verbal abuse. Every ill word said to me by a close relative was like a stone thrown at my heart. It took me years into adulthood to heal from the wounds that harsh words caused.
Words don’t have to be spoken directly to someone to harm them. Proverbs 25:18 warns “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow.” Gossip, slander, harshness, sarcasm, and many other forms of incendiary speech cause many fires. They go all the way to the spirit of a person. Yet the inverse is also true, and quite powerful as well—“kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24), “a person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4), and “like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11).
How will you use your words today? Will you build others up, or tear them down? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.
God, teach me how to use my words in a manner that is pleasing to you and edifying to others. Let not blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:
- If you could hear a tape recording of everything you said last week, what would you want to edit out?
- What similarity does a person’s tongue have to a horse’s bit, a ship’s rudder, and a spark of fire? (James 3:5)
- What inconsistencies are we capable of committing? (James 3:9-10)
- What weaknesses in our lives will our speech often expose?
- Read Colossians 4:6. How can your speech become more full of grace and “seasoned with salt” this week?
Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.