Sunday, December 8, 2013

Think Before You Speak

Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.        James 3:5-8  NKJV
Have you ever heard, or ever used the term “practical advice”?  It refers to the concept of receiving instruction or advice which we can use or practice in the reality of our daily life.  Many of us, myself included, have probably used this idea to avoid learning something in school that we may not have liked by saying we would probably never use it in the real world.  Unfortunately in my case, I can remember doing that then, and later regretting that I did because an occasion arose when it became apparent that I could use the knowledge I rejected learning.

The book of James could easily be called a book of practical advice to believers on how to conduct themselves in everyday life.  It contains instructions on what kind of behavior is expected from us when we encounter the trials and hardships this world can throw at us.  It is generally accepted that the James who wrote this book was in fact James the brother of Jesus.  While scholars have come to that conclusion for other reasons, my thoughts concerning his authorship come from another direction entirely.
Many of us have also heard of a phrase made popular by a movie to come out of Hollywood many years ago which simply asked the question; “what would Jesus do”? When I read the book of James, it occurs to me that what James was writing about were his observations of how Jesus reacted to the trials He faced every day.  Can you imagine walking along with Jesus on a daily basis and learning from His example how to deal with everything life can throw at us?  This is what I believe we find in the book of James, and the advice we receive from him.

James begins his book with a statement many of us are familiar with, but one which all of us should take to heart as preparation for what this life will entail.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.          James 1:2-4  NKJV

If you are like me, the first thing I notice is that James doesn’t even bother to try and convince us that it is possible to go through life without trials.  He simply gives us practical advice based on the foregone conclusion we will all face trials.  His advice to us is to be happy about it because the result will be learning patience, which seems to be the foundation upon which our faith is built.  In the first two chapters James tells us the importance of how we choose to live, and then in the next three he warns us of specific problems we need to be especially aware of.  We find the first one listed in the passage above from chapter three which deals specifically with what we can call “sins of the tongue”.
Now I always have in the back of my mind the thought that the first thing mentioned is probably the most important one in the mind of the author.  Considering that, I had to wonder why after warning us of trials, James begins talking about our tongue?  Could it be that when we encounter difficulties or conflicts with others our first reaction is to strike back with our speech?  Thinking back to what would Jesus do and the possibility James is reflecting on what he observed Jesus doing, I thought of this passage from Isaiah concerning Jesus and His troubles.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.         Isaiah 53:7  NKJV
If ever someone had a reason to speak out it would be our Lord and Savior.  Yet His way was to remain silent and accept what was given without speaking out.  If we all choose to think back in time, how far back do we have to go to remember when someone did or said something which offended us and we never said a word?  James is telling us that of all the ways we can hurt our testimony as believers in Christ, the easiest and most common is with our mouths.  Speaking out without thought of the harm our words can cause is the easiest way to hurt not only others, but our testimony for Christ.

Whoever guards his mouth and tongue Keeps his soul from troubles.         Proverbs 21:23  NKJV

Do you have any idea how many times the words “mouth”, “tongue”, “speech”, “words”, etc. are used in scripture?  We could easily make the point that the most important subject concerning the behavior of believers is how we use our mouths.  James warns us of the dangers of a mouth that has no control.  Do you think before you speak?  Do you stop to consider the possible effect of the words you want to say?  Do you ask yourself “what would Jesus do”?  If we want some practical advice to consider this week, let us all remember to think before we speak, so that our words may glorify our Father in heaven.
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.        Colossians 4:6  NKJV

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.         Ephesians 4:29                 
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.                              Matthew 15:18  NKJV

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.       Luke 6:45  NKJV

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