How thrilled I was to open my Bible Journal reading plan today and discover James on my list! I love James because I’ve spent some real time with him. It’s probably the only book in the Bible that I have close to memorized. My excitement waned however, when I sat down to outline a few ideas for today’s post. James is a tough realist. There’s not much room for interpretation. Certainly I am in no position to issue warnings or guidelines about taming one’s tongue! In fact, after spending time with James this week I thought, “wow I really have a long way to go…who am I to be writing about this text when the folks reading it are probably way better Christian’s than me” I spent some time praying about encouragement. How can we use James’ words today to encourage us to be better Christians? In the first section of James 3, he shows us our certain vulnerability through speech.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man…How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:1-2 and 5-6
We miss the point if we fail to connect the next passage about wisdom:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” James 3:13-16
This leads us to a fundamental question we face as Christians: How can I hope to purify my behavior when it flows from my corrupted inward character? Is there one among us that is not taken down by that bitter jealousy or selfish ambition? How can we change our hearts for good? We’re getting a lot of practice these days. I moved to central Illinois from the heart of Washington D.C. I worked in a very urban children’s hospital. I was used to big conflict all the time. We lived in row houses that shared walls. When our neighbor didn’t take care of their home, we got the mice along with them. When there was religious or racial tension, we lived the consequences along with those groups. When gang members shot their guns, it was neighborhood children that were caught in the middle. When I moved to Illinois to this quiet little town I loved that everyone just got along. I loved the feeling that we all just agreed on the values that matter. Admittedly, I missed the shopping and Trader Joe’s but not the turmoil.
Now, eight years later I see that divisiveness is here too. It’s just quieter; it lives inside and stays there for the most part. Campaigns of criticism begin in us as individuals and spread silently. We think of ourselves as wise and are quick to justify our personal role in conflicts. But what if we were to invite James into our little community? How would he counsel us? He wouldn’t allow us to deceive ourselves. I’ve learned this week that James’ words provide a simple clarity in our life. It is a gift we are willing to surrender to it. Lord, I pray for your wisdom this week for all of our readers. I pray that we might learn to hold our tongue and let go of selfish ambition. Help us, as we meet with family and friends for Thanksgiving this week. Help us to be examples of Christ’s love and provide the clarity of James’ teachings in the moments we need them. We love you Lord, and we are grateful for all of your blessings.