My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . . (James 1:19).
Ever said anything you regret saying?
Rare indeed is the person who hasn’t. Whatever you said, when you said it and to whom, may be remembered by no one but you. But that doesn’t dull the stab of pain those words can still create deep within you.
Maybe it was a careless word, an utterance that left your mouth without being filtered by your brain. Maybe it was a word spoken in anger, a heated moment in which your aim was to hurt. Maybe it was an unkind word overheard by the one person who was never meant to hear it. Maybe it was a careless and hasty post on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe what you spoke was simply untrue; you knew it was gossip but sharing it seemed to win the approval of other gossips.
Whatever it was, the damage is done, and you’d gladly get those words back if you could
Ours is an age in which it is often said that “talk is cheap.” Maybe so. So much of what we hear and say often isn’t worth listening to or saying. We live in a daily deluge of words. But even if talk is cheap, words are not. At some level we all still sense the worth and power of words. Words have life and meaning. They actually do something. They matter.
Words matter to God, and if we walk the path of God’s ways they should matter to us as well. In the Law that God gave to Moses, marking a path by which God’s people would walk and live, there are three commandments that are grounded in the significance and power of words.
Of first importance is the way we speak of God, especially when we are using God’s name. God’s name is not to be spoken carelessly or casually; it is never mere exclamation.
The commandment against adultery is not simply about a sexual sin or about the sacredness of marriage. Behind this command is the nature of a vow that we make to another person. Vows do something to bind people together. Wedding vows are not mere formalities.
And then there is the way we speak about our neighbors. To speak a false witness against them is forbidden.
Watching Our Words
God, who reveals himself to us by means of words, intends that our words do the work of drawing close. Our speaking of God is to reflect intimacy and love of God. Our marriage vows bind us in faithfulness to our spouse. And our words with and about friends are meant to strengthen community, not shatter it or push wedges of alienation between us.
Today, we turn our attention to words and God’s instruction for the way we use them. The ancient wisdom of God’s law shows up in the New Testament in the letter of James. James knew that the tongue was capable of both great good and great harm.
There’s a very good chance that at some point in this day you are going to speak to someone. You will talk to you children, to co-workers and to clients. You will speak to the cashier at the store or the teller at the bank. Somewhere, somehow, someone will hear you speak.
What will they hear? How do you use words and what is their impact?
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Amen. (Psalm 19:14).