Our Words: A Sign of Our Faith
By Austin Donahoo
The Power of the Tongue
James, in his letter to the churches of the dispersion, writes about several ways in which our faith fleshes itself out through the fruit of our lives. He shows the evidence of this by discussing partiality and the use of money. He explains how a Christ-follower would see everyone through the lens of the law of freedom and he shows how our use of money can reveal our true beliefs. Matt, in his sermon on Sunday, continued with the third evidence of how our faith is shown by our fruit by focusing on James’ teaching on the power of the tongue.
James uses several metaphors to explain the power of the tongue. He uses the ideas of a bridle, a rudder, and a spark to discuss what the tongue can do to someone personally and how it can affect whole communities. The similarity between all of these illustrations is that they are all small objects that harness great power. To relate this to the tongue, James writes, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” (3:5a, ESV) As Matt explained on Sunday, James is teaching our inability to tame this member of our body. James states, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). While this may seem discouraging, James does not leave us in the position of despair.
Our Words as a Sign of God’s Spirit
Later in the same chapter, James compares the wisdom that is from above and the wisdom that is earthly and demonic. While this passage is not directly addressing speech, the list of qualities from the “wisdom from above” shows a relationship to the fruits of the Spirit. It says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (3:17). These traits are only a result of the transformative work of the Gospel in someone’s heart. This is a work of the Holy Spirit within those who are called to be children of God. In other words, those who are characterized by these traits that come from spiritual wisdom are showing their renewal through their faith in the work of Christ. As we have seen earlier in the passage and in the whole book of James, this relates to the tongue also. We can have hope that even though we cannot tame the tongue, we know the one who can. Jesus does not just give us a one-way ticket to heaven; he transforms us holistically into a people who reflect the character and wisdom of his Father.
Checking the Tongue
At the beginning of chapter 3, James urges people to be cautious about assuming the role of a teacher. While this is the first statement James makes in this portion of his letter, it is a practical response to the rest of the discourse on the tongue and spiritual wisdom. Matt explained one of the reasons teachers are more strictly judged is that “a preacher’s teaching can be multiplied”. While it is clear that not all are given this gift, we must realize that this truth goes even further. We all have influence and we all have places where our words will be taken as advice or wisdom. We must be careful to speak only with the wisdom that comes from the Spirit or we will face consequences also. Our words must be filled ultimately with the character of God, and we must speak with the example of Jesus always before us.
Austin Donahoo is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. He has a B.A. in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University. Austin is from Greer, SC, and his passions include reading, discipleship, and Christian Community Development.