We are so buried in words we are distracted from how important they are. There are two issues James raises in this section of his letter: the key to changing our lives is linked to our words and, how we communicate, eitehr heals or hurts. [Audio | Notes]
For further thought
Q: Recall some examples in which the words you speak to yourself or the words that have been spoken, written, texted, emailed, facebooked (!) to you or from you have been significant. How have words made hard things either harder or bearable?
As James begins to speak about our use of the tongue, he addresses our teachers who deal with the word of God.
Q: Why does he single these people out for a particular warning? (see also 3:13).
The tongue is small but powerful. James uses two positive illustrations of its use – where it harnesses powerful forces and difficult circumstances (verses 3 & 4) but also a negative illustration where a small spark from the tongue can set on fire the whole course of our lives and the lives of others (5 & 6).
Q: Our culture is overwhelmed by words. Do we underestimate their power?
Q: What makes us careless with words?
Verses 7 & 8 are dispiriting as they claim it is impossible for us to change or manage well the power of words we use. Left to ourselves this may be the case but James says there is another wisdom available to us to help us tame our tongues (3:13-18).
James is not only concerned about our works (2:26) but also that many of our works are done with words.
Q: What happens to lives where there is a big gap between our works and our words or a gap within our words – e.g. In our praise of God and our cursing of others? (9-12).
Q: Read Proverbs 12:13-23 – what skills do we need to practise and seek in the use of our words?
Q: Read Matthew 12:34 – what do our words teach others about us?