My daughter plopped into the chair by me and said with a huff, “I have never been so insulted in my life!” I looked at her tolerantly and asked, “What are you talking about?” She then proceeded to tell me how her teacher insulted her today. She was talking in class during group work and her voice naturally rose louder until her teacher asked her to quiet down. A few minutes later, as the class was preparing to go somewhere, the teacher made the remark that there were several in the class who had been unnecessarily loud today, which had affected those working and sounded much like “a cat being hit by a car.” My daughter took it personal … her teacher had openly insulted her! And in truth, it probably was directed mostly at her. Sadly, her voice does kind of have a grating-on-the-nerves quality about it. As she finished relating this story, she burst into tears. I went to her, hugged her and asked if she had been holding all that in. She said, “Since 9:00.” Ouch. Long day.
Her tale of woe reminded me of scriptures in James I’d been working through all day. These particular scriptures prompted me into action already today when at lunch time, I happened to overhear two teens caught in the middle of a fight in the lunch line. It was a guy and his girl, and she was on the verge of tears and he was swearing every other word. I watched until I couldn’t any longer. She was crumbling beneath the weight of his angry words and I couldn’t bear to watch them. I got up from my seat and said, “Excuse me, I am sorry to interrupt you two, but I have two things to share with you.” Looking to him, I said, “Gentlemen do not talk to ladies that way, so please, stop talking to her like that.” And then I turned to her and said, “Listen, you are way too valuable to let some guy make you feel this way … ever.” Then I smiled and walked away and he spewed more angry curse words to my retreating back and she slowly turned to follow him as he huffed away. I sat back down at my lunch table and prayed for them.
Both of these situations illustrate well what James had to say regarding the tongue:
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell … no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (3:5-6)”
It’s true. I watched both my daughter and that teenage girl wilt from the poisonous words spoken. In fact, of all the wounds I’ve incurred, the ones that hurt most were those inflicted by someone’s careless misuse of their tongue.
James goes on to say that salt water and fresh water cannot both come from the same spring. Imagine with me the implication here: If someone is wounded already, would you want to pour salt water or fresh water on their wounds? That’s a very relevant question, considering that most of the people you come across are wounded in some way or another, or many. Salt water would cause intense pain and agony, whereas fresh water would be very refreshing and soothing. Ah Lord, make my words soothing to the parched, hurting soul!
Here’s another interesting fact: Fresh water is used to fight forest fires! A dry forest will very quickly go up in flames at the least provocation, which will give you an idea of how words can influence a person’s immediate attitude. Forest fires burn in proportion to what consumable things are in it’s path, which will show you how long such a situation can last once someone’s been provoked. And forest fires, once squelched, still leave lasting scars, which will give you an indication of the lasting effect of careless words.
James also gives us this little nugget of advice:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not bring about the righteousness of God. (1:19-20)”
The remedy is not in our own strength though. Self-control is not teachable, as some would have you believe. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. Evidence of the Holy Spirit on a person’s life. This being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry takes some more than inner strength and will power. It takes the Holy Spirit moving on a person’s heart and mind as adversity rises up against their flesh. Only the Spirit of God can help us to hold in when we’d rather lash out. Only His Spirit can show us how our words may affect someone before we ever speak them. We need the Spirit of God in us to not start fires.