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The Untamed Tongue

Why do we honour someone by laughing when they tell us about the fast-thinking, amazing and smart-aleck retort they hurled back at another person earlier in the day? We don’t honour people who tell off-colored jokes by smiling. Are off-colored jokes more wrong than pejorative jabs and feisty retorts and smart-aleck comebacks?

Have you read the Epistle of James recently? Why do you think James had so much to say about our tongues and the words we choose to use? Think about why it is James who has so many concerns about the tongue.

Know this, my beloved brothers:
let every person be quick to hear,
slow to speak, slow to anger;
(James 1:19)

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)

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
And the tongue is 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
….no human being can tame the tongue.
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our Lord and Father,
and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
(James 3:5-10)

And those are not the only references to the things we say with our tongues that are found in James’ short little letter.

When James was younger, there was someone living in his home in Nazareth who made a deep impression upon him. It was his half-brother Jesus. Have you ever tried to imagine what James would have observed in the behaviour of his half-brother during those early years in the home?

While other teenagers rudely lipped their parents and said nasty things to hurt them – this one young man never stooped to such behaviour. While others boasted about things they did – He never bragged. While others exaggerated their achievements and successes – He modestly and humbly told the truth. Others gossiped, but He had no evil inkling inside to engage His tongue in such a hurtful way. While others yapped away, He was the great listener. Such attentive ears and such a responsive heart. There was no cockiness in His responses; no arrogant retorts or off-the-cuff, knee-jerk replies. No needless words. No smug comebacks. No bragging about something He had said earlier in the day to someone downtown.

Do you think His younger half brother James wouldn’t have noticed the difference between Jesus and the rest of them? Sure he did! And after the Resurrection of Christ, when James was saved, he exhorted and taught other believers to live their lives humbly before their God and before the world. He was especially concerned with the flapping, fast-talking, galloping tongue that can be so hurtful and damaging. He said “be slow to speak.” “Bridle your tongue.” We would say: “bite your tongue!”

The next time you feel the urge to spew out a smart-aleck response - think of Jesus. The next time a Christian shares with you personally or from a pulpit or at a coffee shop – yes, the next time someone brags about their sharp-tongued response or some porcupine-quill retort they gave, give them the same facial expression as you do for a dirty joke. Don’t honour their quick tongue by smiling (not even faintly) or laughing as they tell you how quick they were to come up with a masterful retort.

People were amazed both at the words that came out of His mouth (Luke 4:22) and the words that never came out of His mouth. (Matthew 27:14)


Walk carefully and closely with the Lord today.
Warmly in Christ,

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