Say Don’t Say: The Perfect Man

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:1-2)

Is it okay to have a least favorite verse in the Bible? Probably not. But James 3:1 always makes me feel uncomfortable. I do a lot of Bible teaching. I don’t like the idea of having a stricter judgement because of that (and I’m not completely sure what it means).

fishmouth_350It makes sense, though. God takes His Word very seriously. I’d better make sure the words I use to talk about it don’t distort His Word or His character or His truth in any way. His reputation is on the line — and so is my “judgement.”

Here’s the problem: Our words are the hardest part of ourselves to control. The odds of sinning increase dramatically every time we open our mouths to speak. Why? Because we’re sinners on the inside, and our words can be like live footage from the darkest parts of our hearts.

Think: How would someone presume to be a teacher in an unhealthy way? Have you ever been misled about God’s truth by the words or actions of a well-meaning Bible teacher?

Pray: Ask God to help you to know when and if you should take on the job of teaching His Word — and ask Him to help all of your Bible teachers to teach it — and live by it — as right as possible.

Do: Ask someone you know who teaches the Bible how this verse makes him feel — and what he does about it.

Say Don’t Say: Small Things Rule

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” (James 3:3-5)

James just made a huge statement at the end of yesterday’s verse: If you can perfectly control your words, you can control everything else in your life. In fact, you’re perfect.

fishmouth_350Doubtful? He has examples. One small bit turns an enormous horse. One small rudder turns a giant ship. If James were writing in the age of computer microprocessors, imagine all the small things he could have pointed to that control much bigger things.

Especially in the age of constant electronic communication, your words drive your whole life. Get control what you say (write, text, type, tweet, blog, etc.), and you’ll have the rest of your life mastered. Lose control over your words, and . . . tune in tomorrow.

Think: How hard do you work at controlling the kinds of words you say and the meaning attached to them? How effective are you at controlling your words all of the time?

Pray: Thank God for the power of words; ask Him to help you learn to be wise about how you use that power.

Do: Make a list of all the different ways you use words to communicate. For example, talking, texting, etc.

Say Don’t Say: Burn Notice

“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6)

Anyone else feel like getting a tongue-ectomy right now? Yikes! James does not hold back when it comes to describing our power to use words for great evil. He says each of us carries the spark of hell behind our teeth, ready to burn our lives, our relationships, and our futures to the ground.

fishmouth_350God’s Word uses explosive language here to make a powerful argument. Words are like fire. Fire is a good thing — a powerful and necessary part of our survival. But fire out of control burns everyone caught in its path. And the fire of our words often burn out of control.

You’ve felt it. A careless insult tossed your way lands like a stick of dynamite in your soul. Your own words, meant to be funny or helpful, come out wrong and singe the emotions of your closest friends. But wait; it gets worse in tomorrow’s passage.

Think: If words can be so destructive, why do you think God gives us the power to talk and write and e-mail? Wouldn’t we all be better off on permanent mute?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be convinced that what you say, how you say it, to whom you say it, and when you say it really matters. Ask Him for the wisdom and self-control not to burn anyone with your words today.

Do: Look for smoke. Keep watch this week for examples of words used to hurt or destroy, even by people who like each other.

Say Don’t Say: Say What?

“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7-8)

More happy thoughts about the tongue today. If you’ve spent any quality time with TV’s Animal Planet, you’ve seen what James is talking about. Even wild animals can be trained to do amazing things. There’s a seal at our zoo that will put away its toys on command. Awesome!

fishmouth_350But the tongue is the wildest beast of them all. Completely untameable. Why? Because our words always and eventually reveal our true hearts. And our hearts are sinful. Even those of us in Christ — in the process of being made brand new in His image — often prove that transformation is not complete when we speak.

Remember what James’ half-brother Jesus said about our words? “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mattew 12:34) So our only hope of changing the quality of the words coming out of us is to allow God to change the quality of the heart beating inside of us.

Think: Think about the words you’ve used in the last 24 hours. What does your communication reveal about the state of your heart and mind and soul?

Pray: Ask God to help you to love Him more and more with your mind and heart and soul and body so that your words will more often reveal His love in you.

Do: Pay attention again today to the quality of people’s words and notice how what they say reveals what going on inside of them.

Say Don’t Say: Praise God Curse Men

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

For a few days, we’ve listened as James has described the destructive power of words. But “the tongue,” our ability to communicate with words, isn’t just some kind of diabolical weapon. It’s not a club that can be used only for hitting.

fishmouth_350What makes the destructive nature of our words even more upsetting for James is that we’re also capable of using words for incredibly good things. Our words are not like guns, designed only to kill or wound people and animals. You never blame a gun for shooting bullets. That’s what guns do.

But we do blame “tongues” for hurting others, because we have the option of using words to help and to encourage and to praise God. Proverbs 25:11 says that the right word delivered in the right moment is a beautiful thing. The fact that we tend to ignore that option makes the destructive nature of our thoughtless words all the sadder.

Think: Can you think of a time when you have used words to praise God and insult a person in the same day? Why does James write that “this should not be”?

Pray: Prayer dare: Ask God to make you uncomfortable using words to put anyone down for any reason this week.

Do: Keep track of how many times you use words today to say negative things about other people. Compare that to the kinds of things you say about the God who made those people in His likeness.

Say Don’t Say: Say Who You Are

“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:11-12)

At the end of James’ crushing, angry-sounding description of our evil use of words, he offers a smidgen of hope. Yes, hell itself can use our words to cause destruction. Yes, whole lives can be undone by words out of control, And, yes, we are powerless to be perfect with our words in our own strength.

fishmouth_350But for followers of Jesus, our words can also signal a surprisingly helpful identity crisis. When I use my words to praise God or encourage a friend or speak the truth in love, I speak as who I am in Jesus and by His power. When I use words to destroy, I speak out of my old life, the one in which I served myself first and always.

James shows that we can’t be both people. Are you a source of fresh water or salt water? Are you a fig tree or a grapevine? Are you in Christ or serving self? You can’t be both at the same time. Be who God is making you. Let your words reveal Christ in you.

Think: Think about the way you have used your words this last week. How would you describe the person who uses words in that way?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be more and more like Jesus on the inside so that Jesus-style words come out of your mouth.

Do: Look up a few of Jesus’ words in the book of John. Pay attention to what He says and how He says it.