Life Notes—September 13, 2012
“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:5b-8
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt them!” I remember hearing this line with some regularity as a child. Certainly from my classmates, but I think my parents may have chided me with it on occasion when I complained of something someone said that I felt was unfair and hurtful. I think, even then, something about the line didn’t seem quite right. True, words cannot break bones or fatten a lip, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hurtful. There seemed to be a sense, back then, that as long as a person had not been physically harmed, no harm had really been done.
But that was then. Now there is a strong focus on words and how they are used and how they can cause hurts that cut very deep, emotionally if not physically. There are now initiatives to recognize and neutralize bullying. There is diversity training and political correctness. Respect for others is held in high regard. But it is far from a new revelation. The writer of the book of James, many centuries ago, warned in no uncertain terms of the dangers of an unrestrained tongue. The tongue is likened to a small fire that sets a great forest ablaze! I think of how quickly rumors spread and, particularly in today’s information age, how quickly words both true and deceptive can spread to all corners of the globe almost instantaneously. I remember being falsely accused of various wrongdoings in my personal and professional lives over the years. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it stings. And the sting can last a very long time.
Yes, our words are a powerful weapon. Like fire they can be used to warm a cold soul or to incinerate an emotional tinderbox. They are tools for our use and can be used for good or for evil, to build up or to tear down. And when we are in positions of power, as a parent, an upper classman or a supervisor our words carry even more weight and consequence. Words may not have the power to break bones like sticks and stones, but they certainly have the power to break a spirit. In the passage above the writer says, “…but no one can tame the tongue.” No one, that is, but us; and no tongue but our own.
Tom continues his sermon series on the book of James downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00. Mitch continues his series on All-Star Animals of the Bible at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.
Come home to church this Sunday. God’s Word can heal our brokenness.
Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator