James 3 Devotional

Have you ever been having a bad day, and then someone said something kind or encouraging that made it better? Or have you ever had your day ruined by someone speaking to or about you in a way that was hurtful? I suspect most of us have experienced one or both at some point. These are just two examples of how much power the use of our tongues, or speech, can be.

A major theme in James 3 is the evil that can be done with the tongue. One form this takes is speaking cruelly and hatefully to or about another person. This is the first example James talks about–“with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (verse 9). Sometimes this can be done directly to the person. We see this most often on the internet, where the anonymity and lack of follow up emboldens people to act as cruelly as they can.
Other times, this can be done by talking about someone. Maybe we see someone as our competition in some regard, and so we think that bad mouthing them will give us an advantage. Or perhaps we realize that insulting someone that directly carries a risk of backfiring, causing people to view us negatively instead. So we mask our insults in nice-sounding passive-aggressiveness. But any way we do it, if we are using our speech to tear others down, we are using it in an ungodly way.
But there are other ways the tongue can do evil. The tongue can be used to create and spread lies. This can range from something as big as a corporation defrauding investors or a politician making things up to get elected, to something as seemingly small as cheating on a test. God is a God of truth (Isaiah 65:16), and so all dishonesty is in a sense a rejection of who God is.
Connected to this is the promotion of unbiblical worldviews–from the multitude of false religions to false ideologies, like the rejection of absolute truth. Of course, people in these worldviews don’t necessarily know that what they’re affirming is not true, so it’s not the same as lying. But it is still one of the most dangerous ways the tongue can be used: to lead people away from Jesus and his word. To hinder people from finding their only hope of being right with God.
So if the tongue can be used for so much evil, should we just stop using the tongue altogether to make sure we don’t do any of these things? Of course not. Beyond the obvious impracticality, our ability to speak comes from God, and he made us that way for a purpose. The tongue can be used just as much for good as for evil.
The obvious examples would be the flipsides of all the things I mentioned above. Instead of using the tongue to speak cruelly about someone, use the tongue to speak kindly. If there’s something you admire or appreciate about a person, tell them that. If you see someone is having a tough day, encourage them. In fact, sometimes just taking the time to talk to someone can in and of itself be a major encouragement.
And instead of lying, we are to tell the truth. Except in extreme situations like protecting others from harm, we are to say all that is true and nothing that is false. This sounds easy until we come to a situation when lying could benefit us, and telling the truth could cost us.
Recently, a friend of mine, who worked for Chick-Fil-A at the time, was asked to throw away some bags of food. Being hungry due to a long shift, he decided to eat some of the untouched food he was supposed to throw away. Only afterwards did he realize that this was against Chick-Fil-A’s policies and, in their view, was theft. This may seem like a silly rule, but they take it very seriously, and he knew he could get fired for it. Or, he could simply not tell anyone about it, and have no risk of consequences.
Given that I’m telling this story in this section, you can probably guess that he did tell his boss what he did. And the management team seriously debated firing him. In the end, they did not, and told him that they decided not to because him telling them the truth showed that he was a person of integrity. But that outcome is not guaranteed. Sometimes, telling the truth carries a real cost. But no cost outweighs the blessing of being within God’s will.
But the greatest good that can be done with the tongue is using it to proclaim the gospel. The gospel is the greatest news anyone can receive, and the only hope of sinful mankind–that is, all of us. It is easy to say “preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” And it is certainly good to glorify God by our actions. But if that’s all we’re doing, we are not proclaiming the gospel. After all, non-Christians can be just as moral and loving as Christians. No amount of kind actions can communicate to people that Christ died for our sins and rose again three days later. The only way people will know who Jesus is and what he did is if we tell them. There is no better way to use the gift of the tongue that God has given us.

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