I love it when I learn something, especially when I’ve been thinking about it wrong all along. Okay, don’t get too carried away by this admission of confusion; I wasn’t ENTIRELY wrong. When I speak (or think) about the scripture and what it says about the tongue, I often talk about how the tongue is dangerous– like a double edged sword. MY thought is the tongue is both good and bad, like a double edged sword. This is not what scripture says… sort of.
The double edged sword imagery is from Hebrew where the author says the tongue is sharper than a double edged sword. Think of the point on a double edged sword where both edges come together, able to slice in virtually every direction. The tongue can do this, too. The tongue can pierce right through someone, cut to the chase and slice the heart and soul. This image may sound bad, but it is the intention and usage of such a tool that matter. A surgeon can use that sharp blade to save a life where a criminal will harm their victim turning the powerful tool into a weapon.
That is where the book of James comes into play. James 3 talks about how the tongue can be used for both good and evil–building up others or destroying them with your words. “But they are just words,” you might say; we shouldn’t let them impact us. They do. James likens the tongue to a sailboats rudder. The power comes from the wind, but the impact of the wind is guided through the rudder. James uses fire to illustrate the tongue as well. Like a coal starts the fire, soon everything is ablaze.
Why do words impact us so? Why can’t we stop them from hurting us? Words are the foundation of our humanity, literally. The Word of God formed the heavens and the earth, the sun and stars, the birds and fish. The Word of God became flesh and payed the full price of our sins. The Word of God (the Bible) is how we know the heart of our Father, and our words (prayers) are how He knows ours.
Like many things in this world, God gives us a powerful gift and we use it for our own gain and selfish purposes rather than the intention of the one who gave us that gift. James 3 reminds us of one of the most powerful gifts we have been given. Words build up the body and soul of a person. Words can encourage and inspire for good. The words of the Good News of Jesus Christ can bring eternal life. Or, we can destroy one another and tear one another down. We can try to discredit others so we feel better about ourselves or momentarily gain favor in the opinions of man.
Don’t think words have true power? Look into someone’s eyes when you give them a compliment, or ask someone what the meanest thing anyone has ever said to them. I bet they remember. You have a gift from God that can literally change the world and ALL eternity; it is sharp and powerful and it can be used for building up or tearing down. God gives you the choice and the opportunity to use His gifts for good.
“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:10