09 Aug Scorching Words
Have you ever received an email or text that was so delicately worded, so saturated with cordial fluff, that you had to really filter through every sentence to find the main point?
The book of James is the opposite of this. James is as straight-up and point-blank as they come, and when it comes to the power of our words, he gives his warnings without filter or fluff.
But before we look at James’ warning about the power of the tongue, let’s take it back to the beginning to see where this comes from.
One of the first aspects of God’s nature we see in the Bible is His ability to create, but even before that, we see His ability to speak. “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’” (Genesis 1:3). With the words “then God said” repeated with each new day and each new creation, we notice an undeniable connection between these two things: It is in God’s nature to speak things into existence.
After speaking all things into existence, He created man and woman in His image. When crafting us to reflect His image, he gave us, too, the ability to speak. Since we are not God, we do not have the divine capability of speaking physical things into existence, but He did design us with the ability to create, inspire, encourage, construct—to worship with our words.
“With the words ‘then God said’ repeated with each new day and each new creation, we notice an undeniable connection between these two things: It is in God’s nature to speak things into existence.”
In chapter 3 of Genesis, sin enters the world, our ability to speak becomes infected with sin, and our words are corrupted with the power to destroy. The flip side of the power of the tongue to reflect God’s image in its ability to create and breathe life into situations is its reckless nature and sinful tendency to destroy, tear down, and poison relationships and situations.
Fast forward to James chapter 3; the language that James uses to give warning about the power of our words is neither gentle nor mild. He gives us concrete images through which we can better understand the power of the tongue, the final being a fire.
If you’re anything like me, you love the cozy glow of scented candles or the warmth of a fire pit in the backyard. No matter how comforting the scene is, anytime I’m around a flame, I am hyper-aware, because if it gets out of hand, it will spread and scorch. I approach it with caution because it is powerful. Should it catch on to something and spread, it won’t stop, and I will be powerless against that destructive force.
“The flip side of the power of the tongue to reflect God’s image in its ability to create and breathe life into situations is its reckless nature and sinful tendency to destroy, tear down, and poison relationships and situations.”
This is the kind of fire James is referring to. He writes, “And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:6)
I told you James speaks his mind.
A fire, like our words, has the ability to create or destroy. It can bring life by creating heat and light, but it can also spread and scorch. After reading through this passage, I began to imagine any harsh words coming out of my mouth like bolts of fire, lighting a match with criticism, fanning the flame with gossip, and soon leaving those around me sweltering under the heat of hurt feelings.
“A fire, like our words, has the ability to create or destroy.”
That’s why James is so vivid in his images and urgent in his tone; if we do not recognize the grip that sin can have on our tongues and the potential of our words to be destructive, great damage can be done before we know it.
Thankfully, through the gospel, there is hope—though sin is powerful, we are no longer slaves to it. In our own strength, we are no match for the power of sin in our words, but Christ is all-powerful. He is victorious over sin, and we get to receive His power in the Holy Spirit, so that our words can be fruitful and holy.
“But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.” –Romans 8:9a
Are your words typically creating life or burning others? How can your words be destructive?
Audrey is a Clemson student and big fan of warm weather, fall hikes, and anything sweet. You will most likely find her sipping on coffee, laughing off her awkward moments, and spending time with her family and friends. Audrey attends our Powdersville campus.
Words are powerful and persuasive, and they tend to linger long after they are spoken. Whether they are used in God-honoring or selfish ways, words aren’t neutral. They are productive. Proverbs says that words kill and words give life. This means we have both magnificent power and responsibility at the tip of our tongue. If we hope to speak in ways that honor God and nurtures life in another, we need God to change us from the inside out. A Woman’s Words will launch the weeks of September 11 & 18.