The third chapter of James is filled with wisdom about how we use our tongues. Much of it reminds me of a story about a Gossip who goes to the local Rabbi about the problem:
“I’m so sorry for the many times I’ve spoken badly about people and I want to change my ways. What can I do?” The Rabbi responded, “Take these pillows filled with feathers with you. On a windy day, cut holes in the pillows and run through the streets, until all the feathers have blown through the village. Then come back to see me again, and we will speak about your next steps to refrain from gossip.” Though very curious how this might be of any help, the Gossip agreed to the Rabbi’s advice, and after following through on a windy day, made an appointment for the return visit:
“I’ve done all you’ve asked of me, Rabbi. What’s my next step?” The Rabbi replied, “Your next step is to go back into the village and collect all the feathers back into their pillow sacks.” Almost at a loss for words, the Gossip complained, “That’s impossible! Once the feathers left their pillows, it’s virtually impossible to get them back.” The Rabbi turned to the Gossip, saying, “So it is with our words.”
James writes, “…if we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! (Chapter 3:3-5).
The author of these words, likely the brother of Jesus, knows the significance and impact of words. The Gospel according to John suggests Jesus was ‘filled with grace and truth” (John 1:14) and from all the gospel records, we can see this was clearly true in his speech.
Our words can set the course of our relationships and guide our personal character. Later in the same chapter, James writes about our tongues, “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so (verse 9-10).
Imagine the value and significance of our speech when we consider how much we can use our voices graciously in service to Jesus and the well-being of our neighbour. A well-known acronym illustrates well how important it can be to T.H.I.N.K. before we speak. Before speaking about someone or voicing an opinion, consider asking yourself:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
Try it! Your words will not only ring true, but increasingly filled with grace!