We have reached the midpoint our journey through the Book of James. As we have seen as we’ve walked through this immensely practical book, a true, saving faith is more than just words. True faith is evidenced by action. It is not enough to say that we love God and others; our faith must be proved out in how we live our lives and how we treat others. While we know it to not be the case, James places such an emphasis on works in the first 2 chapters of his epistle that some in the past even accused him of espousing a works-based salvation. Yet, in Chapter 3, James’s emphasis shifts back to our words. It is almost as if James realizes at this point in his letter that he may be creating a misunderstanding by placing such an emphasis on works, so he takes a step back to remind us that our words do matter. Our words carry weight.
The first 12 verses of Chapter 3 are all about the importance of what we say. Our words do matter, whether they be the words that ring hollow because of our inaction, or whether they be the words that strike us harder than any physical blow ever could. James uses 3 pairs of illustrations to emphasize the importance of guarding what we say.
- Words matter because they contain the power to direct. James begins by using the illustrations of a ship’s rudder and a bridle’s bit to show how something small and seemingly innocuous can set the path of a mighty ship or a powerful horse. A small turn of a rudder can be the difference between reaching a safe harbor or being dashed upon the rocks. A small tug on a bit can be the difference between staying on the trail and falling into a ravine. The same holds true for our words. The wrong word said at the wrong time can damage the confidence of a child or ruin the reputation of an adult or set a career on a wrong course. Conversely, the right word spoken at the right time can open a child’s mind to his potential or encourage an adult on the verge of giving up or even lead someone to Jesus through the sharing of the gospel.
- Words matter because they have the power to destroy. While James’s illustration of the forest fire is certainly a good one, given the current state of our culture, I don’t know that an illustration is even needed. At no point in human history have our words ever carried so much power to destroy individual lives and even whole organizations. Even words spoken in private with no ill-intent can spread around the world in a moment, leaving wrecked lives and relationships in their wake. Now, more than ever, we must be vigilant with our words and cognizant of their destructive power.
- Words matter because they have the power to delight. In John 4, Jesus promises all those who come to Him will be filled with living water and never thirst again. So, the question is not the quality of what has been provided to us, but the cleanliness of the vessel in which it is held. And while this admonition could pertain to whether or not we use the “naughty words”, I think James’s point is much deeper than that. I can refrain from telling dirty jokes or using profane language and still not be a delight with my words. Just as clean, safe water can have an unpleasant taste, so too I can have a clean vocabulary and not be life-giving in my conversations. It is not enough that what we say is clean; our words are to be a blessing to others. Our goal should be for our words to be seasoned with the gospel, bringing hope and blessing to every conversation.
- The old saying is that “words can never hurt me,” but is that correct? Why or why not?
- Why are both words and actions important? How can they complement one another? How can they contradict one another?
- Consider the 3 reasons James listed that our words matter. How have you seen these 3 at work in your life?