Listen, open your ears, harness your desire to speak, and don’t get worked up into a rage so easily, my brothers and sisters. ~ James 1:19 (The Voice Translation)
We live in a fast paced world with fast paced communication. With a smart phone or computer we can share our thoughts with other people thousands of miles away in an instant. Through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and the likes we can make our voices known to an audience of hundreds if not thousands.
All the more that we need to heed the wisdom of James about words we speak (or type or Swype).
Everyone has an opinion but it seems we are more eager to share our thoughts than hear what others have to say. James tells us the opposite should be true. As followers of Jesus we deal in words each day. God speaks to us through words written thousands of years ago. When you read the Bible you are encountering the voice of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Someone once said (likely not actually Francis of Assisi), “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” While this captures the reality that the right words with the wrong actions accomplish little, it misses the boat: the gospel is words—it’s a message about Jesus. We cannot share the gospel without words.
So as followers of Jesus, words are important. Yet, still, we are to be careful with what we say and how we say it.
When something angers or upsets us we tend to respond with words of yelling or an angry text or a passive aggressive Facebook post. Yet, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). And in James 3 we read how the tongue is like a fire fueled by hell and difficult to control. This is why we need to think before we speak and ponder before we post; to be slow to anger, slow to speak.
Growing up your mother might have taught you the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” We learn that rhyme because we know, from experience, that words do hurt. So we attempt to create a self-defense against hurt caused by others. Words are powerful. The right words can build up while the wrong words can tear down with damage difficult to reverse.
Don’t let your words be a cause for someone else’s discouragement and pain. Don’t let your words tear other people down. Yes, sometimes a rebuke is necessary. Friends don’t let friends wallow in sin that results in ultimate hurt and pain (as all sin does). But even the word of God which rebukes us puts more emphasis on building us up. When Paul mentioned the effect of God’s word in a Christian’s life, he gave one negative: rebuke; but three positives: teaching, correction, and training in righteousness.
So commit yourself, with the help of the Holy Spirit within, to speak what is edifying. Be quick to listen—truly hear what others are saying and ponder the situation; be slow to speak—don’t be too fast about making your thoughts and opinions known, especially if you’re not fully aware of the situation; and be slow to anger—walk in the patient grace of God who is slow to anger with you, and extend such kindness to others.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.