Scripture Readings: Prov. 1:20-23; Ps. 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38 Sermon by Lance McKinnon from James 3:1-12
A Word Fitly Spoken
In his epistle, James, the half brother of Jesus, begins by seeking to strengthen the faith of Christians going through difficult trials. Then in the section of the letter covered in today’s reading, he warns his readers against relying on their own abilities (including the use of their tongues) during those trials, rather than relying on Jesus.
In James 3:1, he tells them to not envy teachers who may be perceived as having more influence. Teachers use their tongue for their trade and there is real weight and responsibility that comes with that. What’s more, nobody is perfect in controlling their tongue. So, if someone wants a position where they think using their tongue will give them control over their troubles, they may find in the end that this will only make matters worse.
James’ point is that it is toward the perfection of Christ that God is leading us. Already in James 1:2-4, he has stated that this is God’s purpose in allowing our trials. Perhaps James’ point now is that followers of Jesus should trust in the Father’s working through their trials rather than relying on the use of their tongues to get themselves out of those trials. In making this point, James gives three illustrations that show the enormous power of the tongue. First he gives two illustrations concerning the positive power of the tongue: a small bit in the mouth of a large horse, and the small rudder on a large ship (James 3:2-4). Both illustrate how the tongue can direct and determine the destination of large things for good.
He then uses the metaphor of fire to illustrate the destructive power of the tongue (James 3:5-6). James’ point is that we need to be rescued from the destructive consequences of trusting in the divided tongue of the serpent instead of trusting in the Word of God.
Jesus, the Living Word of God, is our rescue. He is the “tongue” that speaks on our behalf. Jesus is the final word of judgment on the destructive fire that has been consuming the world and poisoning our souls.
The Word of God in the smallness of crucifixion and death directs and determines the final destination of the entire world. Jesus is the bit and the rudder that brings us all safely home. It is in this final victory spoken by the Word of God on the cross and through the resurrection of the Word from the tomb that we are set free to use our tongues to be a blessing rather than to be a source of destruction.
As we participate in the Word spoken to us and for us, we find that we have been set free to be the source of the kind of speech that is truly a blessing, and not a curse. It is fitting and proper for our words to be words of blessing, seeing that we are created in and connected to Jesus.
Ultimately, we see that the word fitly spoken from our tongues is our Amen to the Father’s Word. We agree with his Word of blessing to us, who is none other than Jesus Christ.