Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…
As much as I’d like this phrase to be true, today, it’s meaningless. Words do hurt people and even the most shallow of verbal offenses prove consequential.
It may be absurd that people can be injured by superficial words, by arrangements of sound. Mere chatter.
That’s not what the Bible says, though.
Words matter, our speech matters, what comes out of our mouth matters.
Look at James 3:1-12, emphasis mine:
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles!6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 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. 10Out 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? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”
From those emphasized lines, are thoughts to meditate on and pray over. The other verses are equally important but I want to focus on those for today’s devotional,
- (v. 2) ” …If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”
Only a perfect man does not stumble in word. None of us are perfect so we can expect that we will and do use speech in flawed ways.
A perfect man who is perfect in his word can also control his body, the implication here is that the body follows the tongue. The quality of our speech governs the course of our body, our life.
- (v. 5) “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”
A fire does not have to start off big in order to do damage, as other environmental conditions can grow it into a strong force. The same with the words we speak. We may think our speech is insignificant but the forces of the world can send our words down a destructive path.
- (v. 6) “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”
Think of the game of telephone.
Defiling the whole body. God often speaks about us, His children, being the church or the body of Christ. We can harm other people with irresponsible gossip or rumors.
What really stands out is in the verse is the phrase, “the tongue…sets on fire the course of nature.”
Storytellers know that culture begins with stories, art, renditions of perspective. The transmission of culture is rooted in communication. What we speak about, how we speak, where we speak, who we speak to, when we speak are influencing the very course of nature.
- (v. 9-10) “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
This verse really convicted me. It takes the entire passage, which is rather metaphorical, and translates it into direct application. There are two parts here.
One, the problem.
We bless God and curse men with the same tongue. Men made in the image of God. The hypocrisy of a wicked tongue really convicted me. I throw around the word ‘idiot’ for everything and everyone. How backwards is it for us to praise God with the same mouth that we use to degrade His creations?
Two, the solution...”these things ought not to be so.”
Simple enough, don’t employ a wicked tongue. Don’t be careless with your speech, don’t be harmful with your words, don’t be hypocritical in your praising and cursing the people that come from God even if they appear to be an idio… (I kid)
This passage came to me some days ago and it’s been hard trying to correct the anger, impatience, insults that want so badly to slip from my tongue. It’s caused me to process slowly the things I think and consider what I might cause by speaking, or manifesting, ugly thoughts.
If we have the power to control our bodies, the church body, the course of nature and the cursing of men with just a tongue then that means we’ve got some power. Power of speech bestowed by Our God. We must use our power and freedom of speech to bring God’s heaven down on earth. That means talking about the good things, blessing and encouraging one another, and of course praising God through everything.
What we speak creates the world we live in. I truly think this is something I need to be more diligent about praying over, it may be the same for you.
This is my first post for Wednesday Wisdoms, a new weekly category that will focus on the Holy Word. These weekly wisdom posts will always include Bible verse, devotional thoughts and encouragement to get into your own quiet time with God.