Highworth United Reformed Church
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James - Chapter 3: A Wise Tongue
It is believed that in 1862 this was published for the first time: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". My Granny repeated that so often that it has stuck to my brain. But I don't think I ever fully believed, it because words so hurt, ln a hurt that can last longer than that of any stick or stone. I have also found a modern update which says "Sticks and stones will break my bones and words will always hurt me". Hurt in a way that even years ot therapy can never fully help overcome. Words do hurt and that is what James is writing about here. Be careful if what the tongue can do.
James highlights this from the very word goin this chapter, when he speaks about teachers...teachers here being not only teachers as we think of in the world today, but teachers are all those who have a role of interpreting reality in society, those who guide, influence, support...
Who are the people who have influenced us in life that we remember? Are they all teachers at school or do we consider them teachers for what they did and said? When we look back at particular people and the impact they have had on our life we realize the importance of what James says. Think also of those whose words have hurt you, diminished you... again, this highlights what James is saying. The responsibility behind what we say / how we say it.
Early on James points out we are all fallible, we all make mistakes. And then develops the image of how something very small has great power over that which is big and powerful: bridle, rudder, fire. And the tongue! The dangers of an unrestrained tongue... yet today we know the tongue cannot do for itself all that causes problems or expresses love. The tongue can only communicate what is deeper, what we are as people, what we believe, what we think. This passage ends with the warning that a good person cannot speak with a double-tongue in the same way that a fig tree cannot also produce olives.
And so James returns to the idea of wisdom. Wisdom from "above" as wisdom that here is called "earthly" or "devilish" - what is from God and what is from our own selfishness. There is a difference that we are invited to discern, so life can be more fulfilling.
Wisdom from above teaches us a better way: mercy, good fruits.
The beauty of the last verse of this chapter 3 reminds us of what can be: a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.