Still, we all have blinders on at times. As we strive for personal righteousness, we are sometimes hindered from growing and blessing other people because we lack understanding of how we are hurting other people.
Or we become insensitive to sin in our own lives that hurts others. Or we may minimize or justify our sin. We have a tendency to approve of our own behavior. Sometimes we need to stop and do a self-inventory. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us stuff that we don’t see.
The book of James is all about self-evaluation. He is speaking to all of us “who consider (ourselves) religious.”
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
– James 1:26
When you have many children, you begin your own little lexicon. There is one phrase that my oldest child has heard me say many times over the years, first to her, then to each of her siblings. It's usually said in consolation, after someone has done or said something plainly mean. I try to explain unkind words, accusations and gossip by saying “People are mean and put other people down in order to build themselves up.” I further explain that these mean things are said to help these people feel better about themselves. I explain that this situation is sadly a part of life. We are all loved by God, but not everyone understands this.
James 3:6-8 talks about the damage that can be done when people use their words to put other people in a “lower place” so that they are placing themselves above them;
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Children throughout history have consoled themselves with the classic words that are used to ward off verbal cruelty; “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” James disagrees. But the sobering reality is that, as Christians, we fling those pebbles, rocks and pieces of wood at one another quite consistently without much thought.
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” James disagrees.
Is the enemy chuckling in delight at what you are saying about another person?
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?“
– James 3:9-11
What do we do when we are tempted to gossip or criticize? Thank you, Jesus, it is so simple. We repent (“turn around”). And we stop it. We close our mouths when unkind words perch, seeking to leap forth and cause another person potential pain. We forgive the person if their words or actions have resulted in our feeling compelled to “bring them down.” Then we use the very same tongue to bless that person and to ask God for grace in responding to the situation.
Here's a little visual from Proverbs 26:18-20.
“Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.”
It's this contrast that should set us apart as His children. The church is called to righteousness. Careless and unguarded words cause division in His church and wound His warriors. Our words, which can do so much good and call beautiful things into being, are not meant to destroy reputations, intentions and relationships. God bless you as your words become instruments used to build up, not harm, those around you.