Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 19 2013 - James 2:18-3:18 – Taming the tongue

The passage we have read today continues the themes we looked at yesterday. Our actions, says James, are to be consistent with what we say we believe. Faith must be set to work, it must be put into action, or it is empty faith; it is dead. This is evident from the life of Abraham; he did not merely say he believed God, he trusted God and obeyed his word even to the point of offering his son Isaac upon an altar. Our faith in God and our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ is to shape our lives.

One of the key areas where faith is to shape conduct is in our conversation with others. James goes so far as to say, "Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check" (James 2:3). He says that all kinds of animals have been "tamed" by mankind (here he is probably reflecting on the mandate given to Adam to rule over all the animal kingdom), but no one has managed to tame the tongue. The tongue is the most unruly of all creatures.

One of the most shocking things is that we can be so inconsistent in the words we say. One moment we are complimenting someone and saying lovely things to them and the next we are saying something unkind about them to someone else, or even to their own face. “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?” (3:10-11). James calls for consistently kind and helpful words springing from a clean and loving heart.

A week or two ago I decided to monitor my use of the tongue; to reflect each day on the things I had said and the character they reflected. On the very first day of this exercise I caught myself reacting to a situation with unhelpful words – I felt that I was being criticised and I reacted instinctively by shifting the focus back upon someone else. And that's what's so shocking – the instinctive reaction to self-justification, self-defence or to blame shifting. Words, spoken without considered judgment betray the orientation of the heart. It's the heart that needs continual transformation; the spring needs to be purified at source.

The shocking truth – a truth we quickly learn by experience – is that we cannot change ourselves. Praise God for Jesus and his transforming power. Paul reminded the Ephesians that the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in those who belong to him (Ephesians 1:19-20). And don’t we need it!

James returns to the subject of wisdom at the end of this morning’s passage: "The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (3:17). This wisdom is the likeness of Christ formed in us by the Spirit of the living God. We stand in continual need of wisdom from heaven – particularly if we are to tame our tongues. James concludes, "Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness" (3:18). It's a mark of the presence of the Spirit if, when we feel ourselves under attack, we are able to speak words of peace rather than words of war.

Lord Jesus, may more of your image be formed in me and be evident in all I say and do today. "May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

Peter Misselbrook