There is a lot of hostile and caustic speech in political discourse, on social media, and private conversations between individuals and groups. One does expect this amongst those who hold no Christian affiliation, but amongst Christians, this should not be! As James in his New Testament letter writes,
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. (3.9-12, NIVUK, 2011)
James is saying that for a Christian to praise God one moment, and than to use his words to curse another person is not natural – it is not consistent with who they purport to be as followers of Jesus Christ. He likens such persons to be like a fig tree producing olives or a grape vine producing figs! There is to be a consistency between one’s faith in Christ and one’s works (in this case words). James echoes what Jesus had taught,
43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6.43-45, NIVUK, 2011)
In other words, our words reveal our true self: our beliefs, our values, our attitudes – what is “stored up in his heart.” – whether it is of God or demonic (James 3.7).
It matters what we do, as well what we say and how we say it! For example, we are to work for justice, James calls this “(r)eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1.27, NIVUK, 2011). We are also to be holy, “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1.27). To be holy is to be like God, it is to imitate Jesus Christ, it is to have a pure heart, cleansed by the Holy Spirit, and our holiness will be reflected in what we say, as well, as in what we do. It gives God no honour or glory if we pursue a just cause yet curse those whom we are not in agreement with.
In the months ahead, within our congregations and denomination, issues will arise that we are passionate about: issues of justice; issues of Biblical truth and doctrinal orthodoxy; issues pertaining to policy and practice. We will use our words to defend our positions, and hopefully to convince our opponents concerning the rightness of our positions. Sadly, whether intentional or not, the temptation will be also to say things that will cause hurt, to discredit those whom we disagree with, even to ‘demonise’ them and to force them into a position in which they concede defeat and submit to our ‘wisdom’. To use James’ words, “this should not be”; instead, our words and works will be submitted to the wisdom of heaven,
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3.17-18, NIVUK, 2011)
Written by Rodger McEachern
Callingwood Road Church
16 February 2021