“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”—James 3:10
Have you ever sent someone an e-mail, and the moment after you sent it, you wished you could take it back? That happened to me this week. It had been a long day, and I was tired. Truth be told, my patience was wearing thin, and I was ready to turn in for the night. But instead of sleeping, I sat up late responding to e-mails. (BTW: don’t do this! Get some sleep. The e-mail can wait till tomorrow.)
I was firing off quick responses, not frustrated or angry, just “getting-the-deed-done.” And then I sent THAT e-mail, the short and fast response to a brother who needed more from me than an answer. At the time I didn’t see that he needed more, or maybe I didn’t want to see it. It seemed like a simple question, and I had a simple answer. That was that. But the second after I pressed send; I knew I had made a mistake. I answered the facts of the e-mail, but I wasn’t listening to him. I told him the truth, but he needed to know I cared.
I’m haunted a little by James instruction about the tongue. He says the tongue can “…set on fire the entire course of life.” (James 3:6) How many times have your words caused a forest fire in your life? Think of the last time your words essentially burnt someone up. It’s sad and sobering, isn’t it? Is it a reoccurring problem in your life? What would those who know you best say?
All of life requires communication, and if we believe the experts, most of it is nonverbal. That means we pick up what someone is saying through facial expressions, eye contact, and gestures more than we do through their actual words. In written communication, the same is essentially true. The reader has to take into account the person writing and look for clues within the subject matter, tone, and word choice to determine a fitting response.
The tongue was not the Apostle Peter’s strong suit if you recall, at least not early on. If you review the Gospel accounts, Peter tends to say whatever came to his mind, and then he gets himself in trouble. He might be bold to speak, but he was not particularly quick to hear or slow to anger (James 1:19). Just ask the Roman solider arresting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane! Yet, through Peter’s words (humanly speaking), three thousand souls were saved at Pentecost. And later, the letters of I & II Peter were written, which God has used for centuries to reveal Himself to His people.
The tongue is a great power, and it can be used for great good or for great ill. The question is: which is it for you? Do you start fires everywhere you go, leaving folks smoldering in your wake? Or is your tongue being used for blessing, to save and sanctify? Maybe blessing and cursing are coming from the same mouth, as James warns. Friends, let’s together learn to pause a little more before we speak, and maybe even whisper a prayer when we feel a fire may be starting in our mouth. Please pray for me in this way. I’ll be sure to pray for you.