Monday, 17 September 2012

The use of our tongue- James 3

James 3:1-12,   Mk 8:27-38

James 3:1-12

New International Version (NIV)

Taming the Tongue

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


Mark 8:27-38

New International Version (NIV)

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them,“Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


Mark 8:35 The Greek word means either life or soul; also in verses 36 and 37.


Questions for reflection on James 3:1-12-

  1. Reflect on your use of your tongue do you use it more to build up and encourage or tear down and condemn? Do you often say things you later regret, or do people comment on how uplifted they are by your words?
  2. How does your use of your tongue affect the rest of your life?
  3. It has been said that “the tongue betrays the world that is in one’s heart”. What might your tongue tell you about your heart?
  4. Reflect on Peter’s tongue in Mark 8:27-38 and Jesus’ response. Who do you say that Jesus is? 



            When my wife, Crystal, was in grade 7 she worked on a science project with another student. The end goal was to present their project in a school science fair. My wife was a good student, but Crystal was paired with someone who didn't really have much of an academic drive. He was more interested in basketball. Crystal ended up doing most of the work and struggled to meet with her partner who rarely showed up and showed little interest in the project. Eventually the project was done and they were getting ready to present it to the judges at the science fair. The top finalists would have the privilege of presenting at the city wide science fair. Despite Crystal having a clearer understanding of the project, and despite her partner's lack of interest, the teacher chose her partner to present the project to the judges. The teacher chose the student who did barely and of the work, and who had a very limited understanding of the project. This boy was getting the same grade as Crystal and now the project was dependent on this slacker's ability to present their science project to the judges. Their grade and the privilege of going to the city science fair rested on this boy. This infuriated Crystal. She insisted that the teacher to let her present the project. The teacher responded, "I don't know what you're angry about, girls don't really go very far in the sciences anyway". Then he walked away, leaving Crystal speechless and fuming.   The family joke is that this was the moment that Crystal determined to become a Molecular Biologist. Obviously, these words had a profound effect on Crystal. Thankfully she transformed them into a challenge. But, these words very easily could have been words that crushed her into fitting a stereotype about women.
            Words have real power. The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" might be mildly reassuring on the playground, but it is mostly not true. Words can start wars. Words can create peace. Words can start a friendship, or end a friendship. Words can create enemies. Words can bring life and encouragement, or death and depression. Words are powerful.
            Our Gospel reading (Mk 8) is focused on speech. Jesus asks, "who do people say that I am". Then he asks his disciples, "who do you say that I am?" Peter responds by saying, "you are the messiah".  In Matthew, (ch16) Jesus responds to Peter's words by saying,

 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. 
Peter's words evoked a blessing from Jesus. Peter's words reveal that he is speaking words heard from God. It is on the basis of these words that Peter will be the rock on which the church is founded.
            Then Peter says something else. Jesus says that as part of being Messiah he will have to suffer. He will have to be rejected by the authorities, be killed, and be resurrected. Peter responds by rebuking Jesus. To rebuke  someone is to scold them. It is to speak harsh words of correction to them. Jesus responds to these words by saying that Peter is now speaking for Satan.   A few short versus earlier Peter was speaking God's words, and in the next few versus he is speaking Satan's words. Words are powerful. We can use them to glorify God and support God's plans, or we can use them to get in the way of God and his blessing. We can bless people or curse them.
            In our epistle reading today James cautions us about our speech. It is especially important and troubling for preachers to hear, "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." But his words aren't just for teachers. The reason he makes a special point of teachers is that their words can have a lot of influence over the life of a community.  But of course, all of us speak words that effect people. The way parents speak has an effect on their children. The words of a trusted friend can also be very powerful. So James' words are for all of us.
            James says that our mouths are like a bit in a horse's mouth, or like a ship's rudder, or like a spark. It may be small, but it has a massive effect. A small bit in a horse's mouth can cause a charging horse to stop or change direction. A tiny rudder can altar the direction of a massive ship. A small spark can cause a huge fire.  Likewise, we should not underestimate our mouths. They may be tiny, but they can have an enormous effect. We often underestimate the power of our words.
            There are also plenty of ways we misuse our speech. We lie. We speak in ways that bring division. We speak in abusive and judgmental ways. We gossip. Sometimes we speak just for the sake of speaking- as if we are afraid of silence. Sometimes we speak in one way and act in another, which shows us to be hypocrites. 
            Sometimes our hearts are so confused we contradict ourselves, speaking in thoughtless and inconsistent ways "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness." What does this tell us about our hearts?  Peter spoke words from God and words from Satan. Whatever we speak first comes from our hearts. Our words are like fruit on a tree. You can tell what the tree is like by looking at the fruit. James wants us to be careful and disciplined with our words. He doesn't just want us to be careful so that we protect our image. I think what he wants is for us to use our speaking carefully. He doesn't want careless speech to bring division in the community. He also knows that paying attention to our speaking is a way of paying attention to our soul. If we say something hurtful it didn't just "slip out". What has really happened is that we have shown ourselves to be the kind of person that says hurtful things.    
            So what do we do? Our words are dangerous and powerful.  Proverbs says that the one with knowledge uses words with restraint (Prov 17:27). We might be tempted to push that a little further and keep ourselves silent entirely. Some have gone this far. There are many, from the Desert Fathers and mothers on, who have decided to lead lives of deep silence. Some monks and nuns even made vows of silence.
            It is amazing and commendable in many ways. And surely it is a good practice for us to enter into silence on a regular basis, however, a life of complete silence is likely not realistic for many of us. The regular practice of silence is important though.  We live in a world where we are constantly being manipulated to buy something, or to support someone's political agenda. Sometimes we get drawn into this practice of manipulation and use our speaking in the attempt to control others. We are surrounded by noise. It is freeing to enter into silence and let go of our need to judge- to let go of our agendas and our need to control. It is good to enter silence so that we can once again hear God's voice which is often drowned out by endless chatter.     
            But, we are not made holy by not doing something. A fence post doesn't gossip, but that doesn't necessarily make it holy. If Peter would have remained silent he would not have spoken Satan's words, but he wouldn't have spoken God's either.
            Silence is an important practice, but I think the desert fathers and mothers would agree that this is only the beginning. To stop yourself from speaking hurtful and false words is just a starting point. We are also called to speak in a way that is full of love for God and our neighbor. We don't just want to keep ourselves from rebuking Jesus, we also want to name Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God.          
            We sometimes hear messages like this and we feel burdened by the need to act a certain way, but we often miss the grace in these kids of readings. James calls us to notice our speaking so that we can live awakened lives. How often do we say something without thinking and regret it? James' words to us are a grace from God. His teaching is good news that we can use our speaking to give life and not death.             
            As Christians, we are a part of God's mission to the world. Careless words, or false words, or divisive words can cause chaos and hurt within a community. It causes the community to be wounded and limping and leaves it unable to participate in its mission. Words have a tremendous amount of power. They have power to tear down or to build up. Just as many of us can remember a time we have been torn down by words, I'm sure most of us can remember a time we have been encouraged or built up by someone's words. Most of us remember the encouraging words of a parent, or teacher, or friend, spoken at the time we needed to hear it. James wants us to be those people. He wants us to be cautious with our speech because he knows how hard it is to keep from falling into unhelpful speech, but really he wants us to be people whose words give life.          

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