This week we are in a new section of James’ letter. Though he returns to a topic he discussed briefly in chapter one, here in chapter three he expands on his discussion on the tongue. And what he says is an echo of what the writer of Proverbs says in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Think of it. People die because of something said. Tongues can be weapons of mass destruction launching wars and holocausts. Tongues can also be the death of marriages, families, churches, careers, reputations, etc. But people also live because of things that are said like, “Not guilty,” or “No, I do not wish to terminate this pregnancy.” The writer of Proverbs says that the tongue can be “a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4). Tongues can reconcile people. They can make peace. They can build others up, bringing hope out of despair and life out of death.
James knows all of this, and that’s why he doesn’t stop with the tongue; he goes all the way to the heart. Jesus said it, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). A critical heart produces a critical tongue. A lying heart produces an acerbic, judgmental tongue. An ungrateful heart yields a complaining tongue.
But, conversely, a loving heart produces a gracious tongue. A trusting heart yields an encouraging tongue. In other words, the words you speak reveal what’s filling your heart. And that’s where the mirror comes into play.
When James says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body,” (verse 2) he’s not coaching us on how to be perfect – far from it. What he’s doing is holding up the mirror of the perfect law and showing us that there’s only One who bridled His tongue perfectly and that’s Jesus. He is the only One who humbled Himself sufficiently to have every word that proceeded from His mouth be perfect. The mirror humbles us when we see the miserable condition of our heart revealed in our unbridled tongue. And that’s the beginning of the change.
The mirror does one other thing! It points us in the direction of One who can change our heart and alter our speech. He can soften our heart and turn it from selfish grumbling to selfless gratitude. And the New Testament is full of examples of such change. The Apostle Paul, Zacchaeus, Peter, Legion, Mary Magdalene, and James are but a few.
This week we are going to dig into James 3:1-6 and see the power of words to kill or to heal, not just others, but ourselves as well.
In preparation for this Sunday’s message “The Power of Words”, you may wish to consider the following:
- Do you remember the sermon from Thomas Chalmers cited in our bulletin lesson seven weeks ago? It was titled: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” How does that relate to the tongue?
- Look at James 1:26. How is 3:1-6 an expansion of what James says there?
- What is the command in verse 1? What judgment is he talking about?
- How did James experience that judgment?
- How is pride at the root of deadly words?
- How are words and works linked in Scripture?
- What is James saying about himself in verse 2?
- What would James say about the ditty: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me?”
- What evidence can you point to in Jesus’ recorded ministry that His tongue was perfectly bridled?
- How does looking into the mirror regularly change our words?