There are 3 parts to this letter from James, or 3 themes – Firstly, testing -showing that we are truly committed to God and the importance of controlling our speech. Secondly - having the gift of wisdom helps us to stand firm in our testing and recognise the difference between earthly and heavenly wisdom. Thirdly, wealth – at the time of writing this letter many of the Christians were poor but were oppressed by the wealthy. James is telling his readers to turn from their evil desires and to follow God.
The words we speak are powerful – if you are a teacher, others can be given the impression that you are wise and holy, and yet you could misrepresent people, scorn and humiliate them and their ideas by things that you say. With teaching comes great responsibility.
Who remembers the children’s rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Well I know that my broken arm as a child had healed and been forgotten a lot quicker that a hurtful word that was said when I was a teenager. Of course, at the time I was told this, my Mum was encouraging me to shrug off an insult because it could not cause me physical pain. In this world of social media and on-line bullying, words of jealousy and selfishness can have catastrophic effects, with this being cited as a common reason for teenage self-harming and even suicide. As James says, words can be like fire – you cannot control or reverse the damage that is caused. Spiteful words can cause deep scars in people. As Thumper says in the Disney film “Bambi” … “If you can’t say something nice…don’t say nothing at all.”
Words we speak can also reveal our hypocrisies – we can be praising God in one minute and then gossiping about someone the next. How is that a good example to non-Christians?
Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to remind us that if we wouldn’t want to hear it then we shouldn’t be saying it? We can pray that the Spirit will help us to control our tongues and that we will only speak words that are pleasing to God.
James explains how we can come near to God by submitting to him; resisting evil; purifying our hearts; being sorrowful for our sins and humbling ourselves before the Lord.
An Irish Gaelic Prayer – O Jesus, Son of God, who was silent before Pilate, do not let us wag our tongues without thinking of what we are to say and how to say it – Amen.