Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. We all grew up learning this little phrase. And probably used it as a defense against a childhood put down from a fellow classmate in school. The statement logically makes sense. But in truth words really can hurt. No, they may not cause physical harm, but that does not mean they cannot inflict injury.
That is the primary point of James in chapter 3 of his letter. James reminds us that the tongue, although a small member of our body, is extremely powerful. Our words can influence and direct the entire course of our life, not only in the present sense, but for years to come. And this influence can be positive or extremely negative and damaging.
James focuses in on the destructive nature of our tongue. He compares our words to a fire that is able to consume everything it touches. Our mouth has the ability to corrupt our lives, preventing us from living a life worthy of our calling as sons and daughters of God. Our words can be like a deadly poison that slowly infects and harms those to whom they are directed. And this negative influence has the power to affect our lives and others for a lifetime.
As if these descriptions are not discouraging enough James effectively says that our tongue cannot be fully controlled. Unlike the rest of the animals in creation our tongue cannot be tamed by humanity.
With our mouths we may articulate some of the most beautiful and encouraging words. We can compliment and encourage. We can declare our love and devotion. We can inspire and motivate. But out of the same mouth can also come cursing, gossip, slander, and destructive words. James succinctly declares, these things should not be so. As followers of Jesus our words should be consistent. They should be an outward reflection of the inner transformation that has occurred in our lives because of our union with Jesus. We are called to use our words to build up, encourage, teach, and declare the glory and beauty of God.
So how do we do this? After all, James has stated that we cannot tame the tongue. And this is correct. We cannot, but God can. It is important for us to allow God’s grace to work in and through us to give us the power and ability to gain control of our words. As we abide in Jesus consistently through spending time in God’s Word our words become more and more of a reflection of our new identity in Christ. Furthermore, we must ask God to control and tame our tongue to make our words become a source of encouragement, blessing, and praise.
As we reflect on the power of our words it forces us to examine our lives and ask, how are we using our words? Are they encouraging or harmful? Are they consistent, or do we utter praises one minute and cursing the next? Are there things we have said for which we need to seek forgiveness? Is there someone we should share words that would encourage and edify? Take time this week as we offer thanks for all that God has done to make sure our words honor God and build others up.