The way I read the Bible shifted a few years ago. I suppose that in high school and college I read the Bible to find out what God had to say to me, believing that the Bible was a love letter from the Lord to me. Which is a problem because then the focus is on me. The truth is that the Bible is a collection of ancient documents, some of which are letters but they certainly weren’t addressed to me. The truth is that the Bible is another way for God to reveal Himself to us, to speak to us about who He is and what He has done and what He is going to do. Reading the Bible that way shifts the focus from me to Him.
So this morning when the pastor was preaching on James 3, that famous passage on the tongue, I wrote in the margin of my notebook, “Find Jesus. Look for God,” as a reminder that this passage exists so I can know more about who God is and then respond to what I learn.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. – James 3:1
When I read the word, “teacher,” in this context I first thing I think of is Jesus. Jesus was the ultimate teacher with the ultimate lesson. He taught in parables, using common knowledge to shed light on something new. He was the best example of a good teacher. His words were not always gentle, however, but they were always true and born from love with the goal of reconciliation and sanctification. He taught to inspire change in those who listened. I want to teach like that.
It says there that teachers will be judged with greater strictness, which has always sounded kind of unfair to me since God created me to be a teacher. This morning the pastor emphasized the pastors rather than the classroom teachers of the world, but I think that we are all teachers. We all see God in different ways as He reveals Himself to us through our different experiences. We all learn different things from His Word because of our personalities and learning styles and backgrounds. As a Church we need to value what we all have to say. As an individual it is impossible for me to know God in His entirety. He is too big, too majestic, too holy and I am too limited, too dumb, too human. But as a group of people, as a Church, we can teach each other what we have each learned in order to know God more.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. – James 3:2-5a
I am not naturally very good at self control. Self control is something I have to consciously practice. And I have had to learn how to practice self control. Yesterday I watched a bunch of episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine with a friend of mine. In one of the episodes one of the officers (it’s a show about police officers) tries to quit smoking. She spent the whole episode trying to think of ways to quit smoking. But she was unsuccessful. Because self control is impossible if we only focus on what we do not want to be doing.
Instead, self control means we structure our lives and our environments around the things that we do want to be doing. Self control is successful when I fill myself up with Jesus and focus on success, on being holy and good and nice and disciplined and joyful. Self control means I seek out people and books and blogs and Instagram accounts that inspire me to be who I want to be. Self control means my mouth is not the boss of me.
Verse 2 says that we all stumble. Which is like, a huge sigh of relief to me. I mean, I inherently know that everyone messes up, but it’s really nice for that fact to be acknowledged right there in the bible. We all mess up. We all say something mean and hateful and oppressive and pointless. But the awesome, amazing thing is that no matter what we’ve said, we can always ask for forgiveness.
Asking for forgiveness is my new favorite thing. Not because it’s fun, but because being forgiven feels awesome. I am a self punisher. I am a guilt carrier. After I’ve messed up and I know I’ve messed up I feel awful. I carry that around. But forgiveness sets me free. Nowadays after I yell at my students I ask for their forgiveness. So instead of being dragged down by, I shouldn’t have done that, I’m the worst teacher ever, I can ask for forgiveness, be forgiven, and we can all move on with our day. Apologizing these days feel like hitting the reset button. Pause, I messed up and I hate that I did that and I don’t want to do it again, I am forgiven by the God of heaven and by this friend/student of mine, Reset, Restart, Move Forward.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. – James 3:5b-8
Strong, harsh words here. But right here the Bible is doing what the Bible does best. Pointing us straight to the cross. James is like, “Listen, your tongue is a hopeless mess. It cannot be tamed or saved. It’s evil and hellish and deadly and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Which is true. There’s nothing I can do about the crap that wants to fly out of my mouth. EXCEPT take it all to Jesus. My tongue on its own is a hopeless mess. So I take it to the Redeemer and dead-raiser Jesus who will do what He does best and turn a hopeless, harmful mess into something that is not only useful, but beautiful.
What it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with is we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. – James 3:9-12
Are my words (overall and in general) sweet or bitter? Hopefully sweet! I want my words to be sweet and life giving, not bitter and joy-killing. Where do sweet and life giving words come from? What is their source? It’s that great Teacher, that dead-raising Redeemer, Jesus. It’s the God of life! If we want our words to be sweet and life giving then we have to daily and often plug into Him so that sweet and life giving words and feelings are constantly coursing through our spirits and flying out of our mouths.
Our words reveal the condition of our hearts. The best way to know the condition of your heart is to listen to/read your words. Check yourself. Listen to yourself. Go back and read your Facebook status updates. Go back and read your tweets. What do your words say about your heart? Where are these words coming from? What is your heart plugging into?
We all have to decide how we are going to use our words. Because we all have the power to influence people with our words. We have all, especially in this day and age, been given the opportunity and the responsibility to speak, type, write, tweet, with purpose and with intentionality. Whether you have an audience of 1 or an audience of 100, your words matter. My words matter. And I want them to matter for good, you know? I want my words to inspire people on toward good works, to remind them of the good things (the God things) about themselves, and to show them God in a new way.
What do you want to do with your words? What do you need to be plugging into to make that happen? Who is your audience? Your 1? Your 100? What do they need to hear?