We've all heard that "talk is cheap" and "sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you". We learn by around age five that those sayings just aren't true. Words can wound. Psychologists tell us that we're already wounded by that young age, and it's more likely that the damage was done by words, sometimes by parents or siblings, and sometimes by peers and friends. It hurts the five year old to learn that other do not love her as much as she loves herself.
Words of rage or anger stem from fear. We're afraid that others will not see just how great we are or will not do as we want them to do. Words of criticism or put-downs stem also from fear that you may be superior to me in some way. (James 4:1-3) It hurts the 25- or 75-year-old to be reminded that others do not love him as much as he loves himself.
James describes our tongues as. "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 3:6-8) In other words, talk is not cheap at all. Words can wound but can also heal. Words can destroy or build up. Words can spread lies or truth, love or hate.
As recorded in Luke 12:48, Jesus said, "For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." James reminds us that those who teach God's Word will be held accountable to the strictest standards. (3:1) God's Word shows us our sins (Law) and salvation (Gospel) which came at a great cost to our Lord.
Jesus said that what comes from the mouth really comes from the heart. It's not the booze talking--the mechanics of meanness come from deeper inside. But taming the tongue is not accomplished by our own efforts. Our verbal assaults on others must be dealt with from within. It's a long process called sanctification and is not accomplished by us, but by God Himself, the same one who brought us to faith in Him.
For God to temper our tongue, we come to Him as children whose eyes have been opened as Jesus gives us the example in Luke 18:10-14, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" This teaching condemns the fallacy that our "natural" desires are good and guides for behavior. We worship our Lord in church where His body and blood, present in His Holy Supper, cool our fiery tongues as we hear His Word declare it is "for the forgiveness of sins". (Matthew 26:26-28)
After our Lord cast out a demon, His disciples asked Him, "Why could we not cast it out?" The answer Jesus gave them explains the reason we struggle controlling our tongues. Jesus said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." (Mark 9:29) The only Perfect Man is Jesus the Christ, and He gives us His righteousness. Gloria Deo--Glory to God.
Rev. Timothy Matthew
is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran
Church in Kennett.