Speak Wisely


A Study of James 3:1-12

In the family, community and even on the national and international scenes, the consequences of what is said can be great. It is our job as Christians to make sure that what we say has a positive effect to the extent that we influence matters or the people around us. This does not mean we cannot sometimes express dissatisfaction, or point out a perceived flaw with a certain situation or person. But it does mean that if we do raise concerns, we should remain positive by suggesting improvements that can be made, rather than merely offering criticism. In the same vein, we also need to be open to comments seeking to “correct” our own behaviors. While we should repel personal attacks disguised as “advice,” we need to heed words of caution offered in good faith. Overall, the text teaches us we should strive for consistency in the ways we communicate and receive information. Key is to recall that the tongue has the power to both create and destroy. Christians should speak to consistently promote the former as an end result. We should subdue the tongue to prevent the latter.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

Many consider the Book of James to be the New Testament version of the Book of Proverbs. Scholars and Bible commentators view both books as offering wise practical instruction for successful Christian living.

In our text, the Apostle James immediately gets down to cases with a stinging caution. He says,

– “Not many of you should presume to be teachers.”

James underscores that – even though we may all have the ability to cpass on information – things sometimes get lost in the translation. There are many teachers with great knowledge, and an ability to understand abstract concepts. But they struggle to communicate the information they possess in a manner that all can easily grasp. I remember many nights sitting in class in seminary fighting sleep as I struggled to access information that, at the time, seemed to be inaccessible due to the way it had been packaged and presented.

For some people, information sharing is not their strength.

Why do some people have such a difficult time transmitting information? There are numerous influences affecting our ability to share information. They include:

– Limited vocabulary

– Poor word-choice (not using the correct or appropriate words, or not asking the right questions)

– Meaning one thing, but saying something else

– Speaking above or beneath our audience (in an attempt to showcase intellect, we may speak above the heads of our listeners. Conversely, sometimes we try to highlight exactly how dense others are by talking down to them)

As a seminarian, I had a professor who admitted he had highlighted his smarts when he began as a teacher. He had not focused on conveying understanding. But he said he realized after a few years that students were not learning anything. So he decided to start teaching to them rather than above them.

In my own experience as a teacher, the university has assigned me at the last minute to teach courses. Sometimes, I was not intimately familiar with the subject matter, having had insufficient time to prepare. As I look back over those days, I realize now why students would look at me as if I had six heads. My vocabulary, as it related to the particular academic discipline, was limited. My word choice was poor, sowing confusion among the students about what questions they should be asking. Very often, I would mean one thing and say something else. It was a mess!

The inability to effectively transmit and share information leads to misunderstandings and frustration.

It is frustrating when we want people to get it and they do not. If I am trying to communicate something I consider important to another person, and they stand there with a blank stare on their face, as if they have seen a ghost, I find myself wondering,

– “Is it me or are they just dense?”

At this point, I begin to look like a cartoon character, where my face turns red, my eyes begin to bulge, and steam is coming out of my ears as my level of frustration rises each time I have to repeat myself.

If ever you find yourself in such a situation, STOP! Do not say another word. Why? Because we are likely to “stumble in many ways” – to cite our text.

When we speak out of frustration and anger, it makes a bad situation worse.

Please understand it is OK to be angry and frustrated. These are natural God-given feelings and emotions. The key is to not act out of frustration or anger. Those emotions should not be the forces that drive us. The text admonishes us to,

– “Keep our whole body (ourselves) in check.”

But how do we bring ourselves back from the precipice? The Apostle offers two examples to help us in verses 3&4:

– “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 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.”

Both examples speak of focus and direction. One way to regain control is to redirect our focus.

We must bear in mind that life is a series of adjustments made in recognition of the need for intervention and self-correction.

Once we discover we are off course, we need to urgently review our bearings. The goal is to get back on course. Also keep in mind that all human problems are born out of self.

Recently the head of my university department held a meeting to discuss proposed changes. After sitting through a two-hour gathering that cut into my downtime between day and evening classes, I was mad. First of all, who do they think they are, wanting to change things? I was perfectly comfortable with the way things were. I then proceeded to act and react while angry at the situation. I got together with other instructors who felt the same and began nurturing resentment. Of course, for appearances sake, I put on a good face, but underneath I was simmering. Then, one day, I realized that I was spiritually and emotionally off course. I needed a self-correction. The administration had been doing what they do: administrate. They pay me to teach, not to like the bureaucracy. I had to ask myself how to “right the ship.” Clearly, I was in the wrong. I went to my department head and apologized. I explained that I had been very dissatisfied with the new changes, but that I realized she was only doing her job. I said that I would comply.

The enemy we must subdue is our tongue.

This is pointed out in the text, where James describes the tongue as a small part of the body, but also a powerful part that is capable of destroying us and our good work. Therefore, we must do everything in our power to tame, subdue, and keep our tongues in check.

Based on our text, here are some steps we can take to subdue the enemy within:

Recognize the destructive capabilities of the tongue – More wars, family feuds and other disputes have been started because of things said. Once you put something out there, it is hard to take it back. James characterizes the tongue as a “spark” that can start a terrible fire. He also calls it a “deadly poison.” Problems occur because of things we do, but more problems are created because of what we say.

Seek to further understand – Before we presume that people are being uncooperative, let us make every effort to try to understand where they are. We know where we are and what we are trying to accomplish, and what we would like others to do. We must remember that no one is a mind reader and we cannot assume people know what we mean if we have not stated clearly what we in fact do mean. If you find yourself not understanding something someone has said, ask for clarity. Ask of the person, “Could you repeat that?” or say, “What exactly do you mean?” Dialogue is the key.

Be honest – The Bible says, let your yes be yes, and your no be no. If you do not want to do something, do not do it. If you have committed yourself to doing something, then honor your commitment. Do not tell a person one thing when you really mean something else, especially in an attempt to spare someone’s feelings. In cases like these, yours may be the feelings that get hurt.

Avoid incendiary, inflammatory and mean-spirited comments and remarks – As I read and listen to what's said by some of the more outspoken political commentators on both the left and right, I can only shake my head and wonder what point there is in focusing so much anger on their opponents. The text says explicitly God created all humanity in His image, and should we denounce His creatures, we are doing the same to God.

Be constructive, not critical – There are many situations that need correcting. However, whenever we are moved to point out faults and flaws, we should follow up with suggestions for improvement. Constant criticism is tough to stomach for even the thickest of skin. It wears one down and erodes self-concept.

Be open to receive correction – A person who has no faults would be perfect … and no one other than Christ Jesus has ever met that standard. We should be receptive to corrective advice heading our way, and not necessarily see it as an attack on our person. Remember the old saying that people who matter do not judge, and people who judge do not matter.

Jesus Christ came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. If we are struggling with our speech or any other aspect of life, Jesus can help us. If you do not know Him please take a moment to acquaint yourself with Him.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.


Sunday 11 October 2009

May God Bless You

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