Posted by: mikebackup | September 18, 2009

We are what we speak

James 3:1-12 (New International Version)

Taming the Tongue
1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

These verses from James at first glance seem to be slightly over the top. The tongue is presented as the great untamed beast of creation that appears to be more evil than good (v6-7). It comes across like some great detached monster that roams the Earth ready to strike.

The imagery may be creative but the reality of the destruction caused by what people say is quite accurate. Throughout human history it can be seen time and again that it was through what someone said that the most terrible of human atrocities originated. A modern obvious example is Hitler. It was through what he said that he convinced a nation that it was right to eliminate those that did not conform to his Aryan standards. Through his example you can see the destruction that the tongue can cause. Hitler was a great orator and through rhetoric, that art of persuasive speaking convinced millions he was right. He used a gift he had been given for evil.

It is easy to detach ourselves from Hitler, but how often have we spoken words that have caused hurt? How often have we in one breath been praising God, and in the next been causing hurt and therefore cursing God? The way forward is explored in verses 11 and 12 with visually creative language. A fresh water spring produces fresh water and not salt water. As people of God we should speak good of all people and remain constant in our following of God through what we say. We should not change from that, but that is far easier said than done. So how can try harder ensure what we say is what God would say?

The phrase ‘engage your brain before opening your mouth’, is useful starting point. If we stop and think before saying something it is likely to be far closer to God, than simply saying something without working out the consequences and affect on the other person. In effect every time we are having a conversation we must engage in mini theological reflections. We have got to go from the point we are in a conversation which is our starting point to a brief period of analysis and reflection before we reply. In this time we can quickly think what the Bible says, what our reasoned judgement is, what our felt experience is and in certain situations what the Christian tradition brings. Doing this helps to prevent heated exchanges, and tit for tat exchanges in everyday life. It is hard work to do this and it takes practice, but if we don’t do it we know that our freshwater spring can quickly turn salty. The temptation to rise to the bait is far to appealing.

These verses also link very well to James 2:1-10, 14-17. Those verses talk of the need to live out our faith in what we do or we have no faith. That doing includes what we say and how we say it. But simply saying the right things is not enough, we have live out what we speak. We have to walk the talk.

The Christian tradition has many great examples of people that truly walked the talk, starting with some of the earliest Bible characters leading up to the pinnacle of Jesus, with many more examples after Jesus leading up to the present day. The message that Jesus brings us is so compelling because he truly walked the talk. If Jesus had spent his life simply talking, then we wouldn’t be here now. Jesus talked truly of God and walked that talk in life, and ultimately walked to the cross. The talking and the doing were brought together seamlessly and that is what we must be looking to do. It is sacrificial and may mean great difficulties. So many have given up their lives because they have stayed firm to walking the talk of God.
We can be inspired by Jesus and we can be inspired by Christians throughout history. One such modern person is Martin Luther King. A great Christian who confronted injustice and prejudice speaking God’s words of love and peace and living out those those words of love and peace. Like Jesus he sacrificed his own life for living out what was right. He gave one of the most iconic and powerful speeches in history. It wasn’t just because he was a great preacher and orator that made it powerful, it’s because everyone knew then and now that he lived every word he said. Watch the last five minutes of that speech and not only listen to great words that still speak so much today, but be inspired by someone that talked of Jesus and walked with Jesus.

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (taken from on 4/9/09)

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