Focal Passage: James 3:1-5a; 9-10, 13-18
You may have heard the saying, “Whoever controls the narrative is in control.” This is another way of saying that language is important. Words matter a great deal. If we don’t know what words mean then we cannot communicate, i.e. that a man is a man and not a women.
In his classic work, 1984, George Orwell warned of “doublespeak” where words are used that deliberately obscure, disguise, distort and even reverse or alter the meaning of words. The misuse of language represents moral confusion and moral confusion is another term for sin. Pastor James deals with the issue of language head on in this critical passage.
The power of words, vv. 1-5a. Words are so powerful that James begins his instruction on language by suggesting that, unless called, not many people should become teachers. The teacher of God’s Word will be judged by how God’s Word is handled (II Timothy 2:15).
Words can cause us and others to stumble. Horses and ships can be controlled by a bit or a propeller disproportionately to the size of the animal or ship. So, too, the tongue is one of the smallest organs of the human body but it can reveal the greatness of a sinful heart.
Like a fire, words can set things ablaze. One wrong comment or a series of slanderous words can destroy an individual and divide a church. Hurtful and harmful words reveal what’s in the heart. And unless our hearts are directed toward God we may find that words are not edifying, but damaging and detrimental.
Words and self control, vv. 9-10. Truth can sting. Truth can hurt. Truth ought to convict. But it must be the truth itself and not the truth-speaker that is harmful or hurtful. Too often, we confuse our words for God’s Word, thereby injuring where healing is needed. If God’s Word convicts then so be it. But if we are careless with our words then we have done more harm than good.
Pastor James points out this irony by noting that with the same mouth we can bless God and curse our neighbor, a neighbor who is made in the image of the One we are blessing. No wonder James says “these things should not be this way” (v. 10). How can we honor the Creator but then dishonor what the Creator has created?
Again, speaking the truth about sin and salvation must be done, but it must be done in love (Ephesians 4:15). Blessing God and cursing our neighbor is the Christian form of Orwell’s 1984 “doublespeak.” It’s speaking out of both sides of our mouth. Controlling the tongue is essential.
Words guided by wisdom, vv. 13-18. The person who uses his language in a wise manner is the person who is seeking the wisdom of God.
Truth and gentleness should be partners in controlling our language (v. 13), rather than envy and selfish ambition (v.14). The boasting tongue that comes from an arrogant heart is not from God, but is “earthly, unscriptural, demonic” and leads to “disorder and every evil practice” (v. 15).
Conversely, language used in a godly manner is “pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense” (v. 17). Our language, even when we speak hard truths, ought to be done for the purposes of seeking the peace of God and peace with our neighbors. When we control the narrative with good and godly language God is glorified and we are benefited. B&R