Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (James 1:26 NIV)
I want my words to be life-giving. I want to use my words and tone of voice to bless people and love them well. Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what pleases God? Tod be clear: I’m still a work in progress when it comes to this, but by God’s grace I am making progress.
My heart is hushed as I reflect on the way James addressed the importance of our words in the New Testament.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (James 1:19-20, 26, NIV)
I know this verse. Maybe you do too. Maybe you even know it by heart or have it written on an index card that’s taped to your bathroom mirror. But, as James reminds us not so subtly, knowing and doing are two different things (James 1:22). It is not good enough for us to be “knowers” of God’s Word. If we want to be men and women of great and godly impact, we must also be doers.
So let’s break down the verse so we can better implement what it has to say about how to ensure that our words will be life-giving.
Be “Quick to Listen”
My friend Marji said, “This is difficult for a girl who likes to finish sentences and finds silence to be the most uncomfortable sound in the world. I often have to turn off the voice in my own mind to really hear the other person.” I get her. Don’t you? Such good advice. To be a good listener I have to turn off the voice in my mind. I don’t need to think of my answer while the person is talking, I need to listen and be in the moment. I need to hear. When I hear, I am better equipped to be compassionate, understanding, gracious, and honorable.
I get myself in trouble when I don’t listen. I stumble over arrogant thoughts, confident that I know more, understand more, have a better idea than, a more correct idea than, or a holier idea. God knew this would be a struggle for most of us. He points us to a better way in His Word. Be quick to listen.
Be “Slow to Speak and Slow to Become Angry”
This may come as news to some of you, but I have lots of opinions. Bogs of them! And I have almost convinced myself that people need to hear them. Certainly my husband. He should know where I stand on everything he says and everything he thinks. Right? And my kids? “Oh, my kids LOVE when I give them my opinion twenty times a day!” said no mom of teenagers…ever. So with this directive to be slow to speak, I sit up a bit straighter in my chair.
And then there is that “slow to become angry” part. Ahem! Have I mentioned that I’m a bit spicy? I credit it to being a sassy girl from the ‘Burgh, but that’s just a way for me to make excuses for my sin. Some people hold their anger in. I’m not that people. My anger becomes a lovely fireworks display inside our home. Light my fuse and I will show you some sparkling color and allow you to hear my booms!
And with that vulnerable gem of an admission, we move on to the next oh-so-challenging point that will lead us toward the righteousness that God desires from us.
“Keep a Tight Rein on Your Tongue”
The Apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). One important word to notice in that verse is the word any. That doesn’t even leave room for a loophole or an excuse that starts with “But HE said…”
You and I may have a word-choice problem, but our word-choice problem does not have to have us! We are children of God who are filled with His righteousness. It is time for a new day with words, friend.
Chin up. Shoulders back, Deep breath. Intentional step forward.
Let’s do this.
Holy Father, please forgive me for all of the times I’ve allowed sinful behavior to creep into my thoughts and conversations. I ask that you will now, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24)
In Jesus’ Power Name
Read Proverbs 18:21. What two powers do our tongues possess? Which of those do you want your words to reflect? What can you do today to make that happen?