James 3 is a chapter about the incredible influence of our words. Have you ever stopped to think about the power words hold? They can build up, tear down, heal, hurt, inspire, and discourage. What others say to us and what we say to others can last a long time, for good or evil. The casual, sarcastic, or critical remark can inflict a lasting injury on another person. A well-timed encouragement or compliment can inspire someone for the rest of their life. Proverbs speaks of the person who doesn't consider the destructive power of his words. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!" (Proverbs 26:18–19)
I can still hear the exact tone and pitch things said to me in my childhood. I still hear it "in their voice.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,”
is one of the most untrue statements of childhood. I have had a lot of broken bones, and they heal much faster than the wounds that were inflicted by someone's words.
Let's explore James' wisdom and discover how to use our words for good.
The book of James is full of instructions about our words and the power that they hold. Have you realized that in every chapter of James, there are instructions on our words? All five chapters and then chapter 3 contain a significant portion of the chapter dedicated to the power of words.
I hope you are seeing the significance that James is putting on the things that we say!
Chapter 3 continues the section that started back in Chapter 2 on how to illustrate your faith. Your faith is seen in your words.
He begins by helping us understand the weight of our words, especially for those in teaching roles. But the truth is, all of us, in various ways, are teachers through our words and actions. Our words carry influence and impact, and we should use them wisely.
James communicates a truth that we have already been told in vs. two by Jesus in Matthew 12:34-37 as he spoke to the Pharisees. He said,
"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:34-37 NIV
Here, Jesus tells us that our words indicate what is in our hearts. James says you can see the maturity of someone not in the gray in their hair, the wrinkles of their skin, but the words of their mouth because the spiritually mature display it through their speech.
James goes on to illustrate the power of the tongue so well with these three illustrations of the bit, the rudder, and the fire. He tells us that when we gain control over our speech, we control many aspects of our lives.
We put bits in horses' mouths so that they may obey us.
A tiny bit in the mouth controls a strong horse. A small rudder turns a large ship. Even so, if we have control over our tongue, it is an indication that we have control over our self. Whoever can control the tongue can bridle the whole body.
The bit and the rudder are tiny but extremely important. If they are not controlled, the entire horse is out of control, and the whole ship is out of control. It is possible for something as small as the tongue to have tremendous power for either good or evil.
You don't solve the problem of an unruly horse by keeping it in the barn or the problem of a hard-to-steer ship by keeping it tied to the dock. In the same way, even a vow of silence is not the ultimate answer for the misuse of our tongue.
If the tongue is like a bit in the mouth of a horse or the rudder on a ship, it leaves us with the question:
Who or what holds the reigns, or who or what directs the rudder?
Some people have no hand on the reigns or rudder and, therefore, say whatever comes into mind. Others direct their tongue from their emotions or from aspects of their carnal nature. James points us towards having the Spirit of God, working through the new man, set directing hands on the reigns and rudder that is our tongue.
In verse 11 of this third chapter of James, there is a hard question asked of us. The question that is asked is,
can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
Ouch, James knows the truth that Jesus has already taught and said good and evil can't flow from the same source, so our contradictory speech sends a message about the contents of our spring, our heart. As we grow in the spirit of God, we increase in self-control, which helps us with what we allow to come out of our mouths, illustrating that the outflow of our lives is pure springs.
I know it can sound so juvenile to say watch what you say, but today, I don't say it as a pushback to indicate not to cuss, but as an indicator of what is really inside you will always come out. Let's be so full of the Holy Spirit that when we get surprised, "our slips" are Jesus-filled and not asterisk-filled.