The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. (James 3:5)
Words are an interesting thing. We use them in all sorts of ways. Ask.com reports that on average, adults say 16,000 words per day. What we say is a big deal, literally! And so it’s no wonder we find in the book of James a warning about how we speak. Words matter.
I wonder, though, how James would address our words today. In a social media culture, words are typed as much, if not more, than they are spoken. Gone are any fears or hesitations related to face-to-face interaction. Via the Internet or texting, we can say whatever we want to someone from the comfort of our own private space. Words are easy.
For James, he was concerned with people intentionally misusing words to distract or lead people away from faithfulness. The dangers of the tongue were quite obvious. Today our problem isn’t so much an intentional misuse of words. Our ‘cursing,’ as James puts it, is far more subtle. In the world of social media, our use of words is more of a naive indifference as we blindly type this or that without ever considering what we’re saying or who we’re saying it to. An overly expressive status update; a judgmental tweet; or an ill-timed ‘LOL’ reverberates into cyberspace much like the “great boasts” James warns against.
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be (James 3:8-10)
James is calling for consistency in word and deed. And while our audible words remain important today, it is just as important how we use our words online. So before you send your next text message or publish a status update, consider how James’ teaching can inspire a faithful use of your tongue, whether it’s heard or typed:
1. Pause: Do I need to share this right now?
2. Think: Is what I’m saying uplifting to God and others?
3. Seek Clarity: Can this be misunderstood as selfish or insulting (“boasting”) and how can I make my words as clear as possible?