Taming the Tongue


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Hosea 1:1-2:1, James 3:1-13, Matthew 13:44-52

Do our thoughts steer our words, or do our words steer our thoughts?

The Letter of James stresses the importance of minding the words we use. Words can express our thoughts, but they can also influence our attitudes. One example is how negative or positive “self-talk” reinforces our perception of ourselves and our environment. Counting our blessings is not just a cliché, it’s a healthy habit. What if, instead of calling the person who cuts us off in traffic a @#$% so-and-so, we reminded ourselves out loud: “Child of God.” Certainly not as cathartic, but might it change our thinking about that person and even ourselves? When we are mindful, we can train our brains to respond more compassionately to ourselves and others.

Some people use this passage to condemn profanity. While there are good reasons to avoid profanity (to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut in Hocus Pocus, profanity gives people an excuse not to listen to you), this scripture is more concerned with the impact words have on the community. It teaches “the tongue is a fire” which can kindle an inferno of conflict. Everyone has witnessed the damage that gossip, rumor, and innuendo inflict on a community. James describes the tongue as a rudder that can guide large ships through dangerous winds. Shoot-from-the-hip types may be popular for seeming “authentic,” but their ships often run aground. Our words must be honest, but they should also be loving and measured for mercy. Because this skill is rare, James says few are called to be teachers.

James asks how the same mouth can utter both blessings and curses, when it is impossible for a spring to spout both fresh and salt water. No matter how hard we try not to be salty, he knows our tongues can never be fully tamed, yet urges us to try. Thanking God daily – hourly if necessary – for the ability to use our tongues in service to Christ will help us do just that. Sometimes the most healing words are the most humble. Let us not presume to speak for Christ, but pray he speaks through us.

Comfort: We can control our tongue; it does not have to control us.

Challenge: For a day(or a week if you’re ambitious), trying listening for the Spirit and praying before you speak.

Prayer: God of strength, help me control my words and bend my heart to Your service. Amen.

Discussion: We’ve all heard “Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Do you believe this is true?

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