In his epistle, James warns his readers that not many of them should become teachers, because God judges teachers with greater strictness. He goes on to say that one who does not stumble with his tongue is perfect, for ability to control the tongue means one is able to control his whole body. A small fire sets an entire forest ablaze as the tongue negatively affects the body that results in setting our whole life ablaze. James describes the tongue as “a world of unrighteousness” and “a restless evil, full of poison.” He further writes that the tongue blesses God and curses those made in God’s image. A tongue on fire cannot come from a good source.
It is very tempting to misuse the tongue. All of us have done this at one time or another or regularly. But, we must be aware of the unrighteousness it manifests. The tongue does damage to others. This misuse is not helpful in debate. It is certainly harmful. We must be careful what we say to other people including those we meet for an informal or formal discussion of our theological and philosdophical differences. We will gain no ground by being disrespectful in what we say. And, we are not to respond with disrespect those who disrespect us. We are to set an example as disciples of Christ. The world does not follow these rules. Watch a half hour or less of 24/7 news to see. Pinhead and other such nomenclature has become common in the conservative and liberal media and in government. We are to discredit a perspective by discrediting the perspective, not the person.
James employs the word curse. To curse someone is more serious than calling a person a name. A curse is a malediction calling down upon someone’s head God’s disfavor and ill-fortune. In the Lucan version of the Beatitudes, Jesus recites blessings and curses. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” “But woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” (Luke 6: 21, 24 ESV) Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” (Mark 11: 21 ESV)
What should one do when one is confronted with wickedness and evil? Should not the person be pointed out for what he/she is? Shouldn’t he be reminded of the judgment of God? Such judgments are most often not necessary, and we can misjudge; but, when evil needs to be identified, we must do so after careful consideration. People need to be reminded of God’s will and His judgment, even Christians. Judgment is the Law speaking. We must hear the Law before we can receive the Gospel.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus associates the misuse of the tongue with anger. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5: 21-2 ESV) More on anger in the future.
I leave you with something James says near the beginning of his letter: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1: 26 ESV)
Michael G. Tavella
July 15, 2019