There is a famous children’s rhyme which suggests that ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me’. The rhyme was intended to be used as a defence mechanism against name-calling and verbal abuse, and specifically to encourage non-retaliation on the part of the victim. However, as we all know, perhaps from bitter experience, words can have a devastating effect upon individuals. The general letter of James lists a number of sins that are still widespread in society, including sins of the tongue, which he deals with in chapter 3. Sins of the tongue are particularly apparent today in the realm of social media, which is often used by many people to gain a reputation, either by internet trolling or ingratiating themselves with others. Believers should therefore be circumspect in the use of these forms of communication and avoid being drawn into such exchanges. James highlights this danger by reminding us that, although faith without deeds is totally useless, deeds cannot simply be restricted to actions, as words provide the means whereby things are achieved in life. Words leave an indelible impression upon people for good or evil, and control of the tongue is an indicator of the way in which our hearts have been transformed through and by Christ. It is not good enough for us as believers to say that we can’t help ourselves or to excuse ourselves by saying that that’s how we are. In Christ, everything has changed, 2 Cor. 5. 17, and the control of our tongue, i.e., the words that we say and communicate to others, must reflect our changed lives. Our Lord reminds us that it is ‘out of the abundance of (that which fills) the heart the mouth speaketh’, Matt. 12. 34. If I have a censorious and carping spirit, then that will be reflected in my words and actions towards other believers. Paul writes that we should concentrate our minds upon things that are honest, just, lovely and of good report, Phil. 4. 8. Therefore, we should always look to find the very best in our fellow believers. These are individuals for whom Christ died, 1 Cor. 8. 11.
When the tongue is not restrained, the rest of the body is likely to be uncontrolled and undisciplined as well. Our hearts will be filled with bitter jealousy and rivalry exhibiting a sensual wisdom characterized by continuous conflict, disharmony, and all other kinds of evil. No other member of the body can wreak so much havoc on a godly life. Human beings can tame an entire menagerie of animals yet fail to tame the tongue, which is always restless and toxic. It is totally inconsistent in that it can both bless and curse and can often act contrary to the laws of nature. Hence James’s command that our lives should be different.
Those who control their tongues, however, show that they have embraced a wisdom that comes from above – evident by their purity of thought, gentleness, approachability, and sincerity. What sort of wisdom have we embraced?