Back again to the letter of James this week.
Early on in this series we thought about the need to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)
There are however times when we need to speak up and in this week’s section James gets us to reflect on HOW we speak.
It is sometimes said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and I get the feeling that occasionally the tongue is mightier than the pen! It can certainly do a great deal of damage as well as good. Be prepared to think about how you communicate both verbally and by actions.
vv 3-5 … a small bit … a small rudder … the tongue is a small thing … a tiny spark.
And James might have added for our benefit ‘the small steering wheel of a 40 ton lorry.’
Steering anything is a wonderful skill.
The point James is making is that something small can determine the direction of something very much larger. How we use our tongues (for speaking of course!) can often determine the course of a friendship, a marriage, and even a career! Say the wrong thing and just see how a conversation can take a turn for the worse. A sarcastic response or critical comment can be the spark that destroys a relationship or terminates an interview for a good job. (And a thoughtless tweet can do much the same.)
So the practical issue is how are we to control our tongues.
How totally realistic James is when he says that it is a really difficult thing to master. The spoken word however is only an outward and audible expression of what is going on in a person’s thinking. It is there where mastery of the tongue begins – get the thinking, the opinions, the values you hold, straight and the helpful and healthy words will begin to come. If, for example, you have a low opinion of someone and deep down you regard that person as unimportant or insignificant then the odds are that will come out in what you say about them or to them. So perhaps it all begins by valuing people, realising that each person is made in the image of God and is valuable and loved. That inner attitude of love, valuing people and caring about them, will prevent us from bad-mouthing them. A tongue controlled by love will help us maintain a good course through life.