There’s been a lot of talk about talk lately, especially since the presidential debates began. The talk of political leaders influences the talk in our culture. But there is a better source of wisdom concerning talk. A few months ago at First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, we studied the book of James. From James 3, we learn three important things about talk.
1. Words create worlds.
James reminds us of the creation story in Genesis 1. In that story, God didn’t wave God’s hand to create the universe. God didn’t stomp God’s foot to bring the world into being. God spoke. God said, “Let there be light." And there was light. God could have created the world in any way God wanted, and God chose speech. God talked the universe into existence. Since then, tongues have had the capacity to shape worlds. We can’t speak light or plants or animals into being, but we can use the power of speech to shape our own sphere of life. For example, ever since they were born, I have constantly told my daughters that they are good girls. Part of what I am doing is describing them. They are generally sweet and well-behaved girls. But part of what I’m doing is speaking a world for them to live into, a world in which they are moral people.
2. We don’t run our mouths; our mouths run us.
We often think of the mind telling the mouth what to say. But James takes a different angle. He says the mouth controls the body like a rudder steers a ship. It’s a small part of the vessel but it charts the course. A key to self-control, then, is tongue-control. If we can learn to practice holy speech, we can learn to practice holy living. If we can get our Christian talk going, it can help our Christian walk. This is one reason prayer is so formative. Saying “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” can help us to do God’s will. Saying “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" can help us to forgive others.
3. Blessing and cursing shouldn’t come from the same pie-hole.
James says we use our mouths to bless God and to curse people created in God’s likeness. How can we praise the Creator and curse the creations? That’s like praising an author and cursing her books. That’s like praising an artist and cursing his masterpiece. It makes no sense. And it shouldn’t be that way. The clear lesson is that we are to bless people as we bless God. So the next time we want to curse somebody on the news, or curse somebody who has done us wrong, or curse somebody on the other side of a controversial issue, we might remember that they bear the mark of God’s creative genius in some way or another, and that to curse that person is to curse someone made in God’s image.
These three points are important to remember because words are a huge part of our lives. In fact, a 2012 study found that the average person speaks about 17,000 words per day. That’s a lot of opportunity to mess up. But it’s also a lot of opportunity to shape a healthy world, chart a holy life, and bless people’s socks off.
Pastor Noel Schoonmaker
First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN