James calls on believers to take the wheel and use our speech positively to humbly temper our expectations and ambitions.
“Come now, you who say: ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there trading and making profit’ – but you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life Because you are a fog that appears for a short time and then disappears. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this and that.”
James 4: 13-15, ESV-CE
This command from James is often read superficially, merely as a (cumbersome) command to add a pious formula to every future verb. Read it alone, it might look like this. Indeed, James seems to want his admonition to affect people’s language. However, this is hardly an empty platitude or an attempt to give business deals a Christian character. We can see its depth more clearly when we read it in the context of what he has already said about the power of language.
James’ main treatment of “the tongue” comes in Chap. 3. The final admonition challenges us to tame our tongues so that what we say reflects what God has taught us to believe. “In order to [the tongue] We bless our Lord and Father and thereby curse people who are made in the form of God. Blessings and curses come from the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be so ”(3: 9-10). If I believe that every person was created in the image of God, that Jesus died to open the way of salvation for this person, how can I speak about him as if he did not deserve to breathe because he was in me Grocery store has molested line or what sign has he got in his front yard? When Jesus says that our mouths express the evil that is in our hearts (see Matthew 12: 34-35; 15: 18-20), James calls us to let our sacred hearts control and guide our tongues.
Because from James’ point of view, our mouths are not just valves for what is already in our hearts. Our speech also exercises its own control.
“When we put bits in horses’ mouths to make them obey us, we lead their whole bodies. Also, look at the ships: although they are so big and driven by high winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s will points. So the tongue is also a small member, but it boasts of great things. How big is the forest that is set on fire by such a small fire! “
– James 3: 3-5, ESV-CE
The tongue is a bit, an oar – to update the metaphor, a steering wheel. Because if what we say usually comes from what we already believe or feel, it can also work the other way around, where what we say can guide our course or reinforce what was just weak in our hearts as we spoke. When I looked for myself at the beginning of my studies, my tongue was loose, I joined in and repeated jokes or slogans that didn’t necessarily reflect what I believed when I repeated them for the first time. But the more you say it, the less sensitive you become to the problems in what you say. The more you say it out loud to others (or on social media), the more your reputation is tied to it and the more you begin to justify it. Or when our words express our own finite minds or sinful hearts, it no longer becomes a feeling to humbly examine or repent of, but a position to take. A moment of unbridled “venting” about that person or group – “She’s doing this every time! Selfish, that’s it! “- Prejudices against charity, the next time we see them, form the words about them that we repeat to others and become a position that we defend. And the door of repentance, reconciliation, or positive love for that person or group is gradually creaking shut.
The tongue, “set on fire by hell”, can sting us with “deadly poison” (Jas 3: 6, 8). It’s a pretty negative image that is worth hearing again in heated and polarized socio-political climates, where the slogans and jokes about the “other side” harden us against others and poison our humility or charity.
If the tongue has this negative potential, our verbal steering wheel can also steer us in better directions during sanctification. We can see this in James’ call for humble planning. He doesn’t say not to plan or to become a resigned fatalist. Go ahead and plan, but plan like the creature you are. And remember this by saying “God willing”.
James calls us to do this Use our speech positively as an oarto temper our expectations and properly control the way our hearts and minds plan.
James envisions traveling merchants in ancient times, whose livelihoods were at risk from economic instability to weather, bandits, and plague. And his words are just as important in the modern west, where we get enraged by a five minute delay or our bluetooth interference, not to mention the big things about whether my child (expected in January as I write) is born alive and healthy or war will break out.
James advises us to let our tongue influence our expectations and posture, even about the best of plans. When our hearts perk up in frustration with a meager problem, it is healthy to check ourselves with your tongue and remember how minor the discomfort really is (“first world problems”). When we plan the big things, we plan and work for love and human prosperity, but James advises us to use our tongues to put everything under the will of God, make our plans of prayer, and remember what is ours Proud would rather forget. Otherwise, not only will we experience a healthy sadness or a desire to correct injustice, but we will also be outraged that something should burst our little bubble, as if any interruption deprives us of the cosmic right to have things the way we expect – as if we were gods.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” – Prov 18: 21a. Our words can harm others and poison our own construction of ourselves and our reality. But our words can also edify others, and they can be medicine to inform and condition our spirit and our attitude towards others in love, humility and confession before God and hope and trust in the one from whom every good and perfect gift proceeds (Jas 1:17).
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