Posted On May 11, 2018

Watch Your Mouth! James’ Counsel for the Verbally Challenged – Part 1

by | May 11, 2018 | Theology

I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels – John Calvin

If there is one problem I have with modern Christians, it’s how we use language.

I am not much for conversation – by nature, I have a knack for offending people and that penchant for offence usually means that I have to work two or three times harder than most when it comes to speaking. That usually means I try my hardest not to talk.

Perhaps that makes me the wrong person to talk about taming the tongue – but then again, next to no-one talks about that these days so I suppose someone should, even if it is the kid with the chronic inability to not stick his foot in his mouth.

In an age with an abundance of blogs, podcasts, books and conferences, you’d think the use of the tongue would be spoken about even a little bit. In my experience, Christians generally don’t talk about sins of the tongue for the same reason we talk about a lot of sinful behaviours – it’s not that big of a deal to us.

Gossip, backbiting, murmuring, slander, smart-aleck comments, humour at other people’s expense – they’re just not that big of a deal. As long as you aren’t committing some big sin like fornication or cheating on your taxes or getting drunk – and even that’s not that big of a deal these days – a little looseness with words is no big deal.

Well, I don’t hate to be that guy, but it is a big deal. Christians should be those who take the utmost care with their words. We shouldn’t be marked by the kind of flippant, childish and inane talk that characterizes the world around us. If I may use a controversial but accurate phrase, Christians are above that!

However, don’t take that on my say-so. I want to consider a single verse which God has used to make me think twice about a loose use of the tongue. I’m not perfect at it by any stretch but I am constantly making the grace-driven effort to be better in this area.

The verse is James 3:2:

For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body.

The Context

The letter of James is the letter of practical Christianity. It speaks in a pointed, black-and-white, matter-of-fact way that is highly refreshing when compared with most evangelicals today who seem terrified of downplaying grace by actually having the nerve to say, “If you talk the talk, walk the walk!”

One area James does a great job with is the whole area of our words. As Bible commentator Dr. Bob Utley notes:

Human speech is a recurrent theme of James (cf. James 1:19,26; 2:14; 3:1-12; 4:11,12, 5:12). He deals with it from several different angles in almost every chapter. Speech is part of the image of God in mankind (cf. James 3:9; Gen. 1:26-27). A person’s words, like a person’s works in James 2:14-26; 3:13, truly reveals one’s spiritual orientation (cf. Matt. 12:33-37; 15:18; Luke 6:45). The tongue can be a great blessing when controlled and energized by God, but a terrible, destructive force in the hands of the evil one. 1

James begins his discourse on dialogue with a pointed warning in verse 1:

Not many should become teachers, my brothers because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.

As an aspiring Bible teacher, that verse (rightfully) keeps me honest – those of us who love to teach the Word shouldn’t run too quickly to occupy the office of a teacher. After all, the higher the office, the higher the stakes.

As he speaks to those who would teach, he goes on to note a reality that accompanies those who would speak as much as a teacher ends up doing: those who have the chance to speak the most stand in the most danger of sinning with their tongues.

Now we may read such a verse and think, “Whew…I’m not a teacher so that gets me off the hook!” Well, I wouldn’t shuffle off too quickly. While not every Christian is called to occupy the office of teacher, every Christian has a responsibility to be speaking to other believers with words that, in a sense, teach one another (cf Eph 4:29;5:4) – and in that sense, this warning applies to you just as much as it applies to your pastor or Bible study leader.

Don’t be so quick to open your mouth – you’ll be held accountable for what comes out of it! 2


1 http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/, emphasis mine

2 cf. Matt 12:36 – “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless [lit. worthless] word they speak.

Related Posts

Episode 63 – Are Nativity Scenes OK?

Episode 63 – Are Nativity Scenes OK?

Cuatro and Michael discuss the Christian trend to erect, display, and defend Nativity scenes, particularly those which include an image of the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. Are these depictions violations of the second commandment? Feedback is always welcome....

The First and Second Birth of John Bunyan

The First and Second Birth of John Bunyan

On November 28, 1628 John Bunyan was born. I am grateful for Bunyan's commitment to the Word of God. For his writing of the Pilgrim's Progress. For the example he has left behind for us to follow. But before all of that, he had to be born again. How did this happen in...

Advent 2022 – Free Family Devotionals

Advent 2022 – Free Family Devotionals

The Word Christmas is not in the Bible. Never once does Paul, or Peter, or James, or any of New Testament tell us that we must celebrate the birth of Christ. In fact, sometimes we must lament some of what Christmas has come to mean to many people. To many, it is a...

Episode 61 – Cuatro Reacts to a Letter

Episode 61 – Cuatro Reacts to a Letter

At the campus of West Virginia University "a concerned citizen" gave Michael a letter detailing the real reason evangelicals street preach and do the things they do. Michael thought it would be fruitful for Cuatro to hear the letter and react. Feedback is always...

The One Response Conservatives Don’t Give to National Crises

The One Response Conservatives Don’t Give to National Crises

In my 3.5+ decades of life on earth, I have lived through a few “national crises”. Some things I would not label so much as a “national” crisis but more of a conservative crisis. That is, for example, things like what we are dealing with right now with the so-called...

1 Comment

  1. Allen Jerkins

    Thanks, Kofi. Looking forward to the coming installments.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *