Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NIV
James speaks quite frankly here at the beginning of his letter and later when he writes: “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Ja. 3:7-8 NIV). Our words are powerful and can build up or tear down, can bless or curse. What hope do we have? Taming the tongue requires the help of the Holy Spirit; it is only as we are reborn and new in Christ that we can use our tongue to praise God and bless others. Jesus makes this point when he says “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). From renewed hearts come words that are full of grace and truth as we become more and more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This month of November, when we thank our veterans for their sacrifice and service and as we look forward to the feast of Thanksgiving, may we grow in the discipline of our tongues and the habit of appreciation.
Thanksgiving is the time of year to give Thanks to God for all His good gifts to us. Most of us will celebrate by enjoying the bounty with family and friends around a table. Much of the day will focus on food (and maybe football), and hopefully your favorite recipes will be featured. Sharing a meal together means much more that just eating – there is all the time in the kitchen beforehand preparing what’s on the menu, setting the table, welcoming guests, saying grace, and last but not least, cleaning up! All that time is an opportunity to talk to others as we help each other and it’s a chance to be a blessing to them on that day.
But there is always the temptation to use those opportunities to complain or grumble (for instance when we really don’t feel like helping to wash the dishes). Instead of affirming others, we tear them down. Our selfishness and impatience all too often this time of year are on display for all the world to hear. Have you ever had a meal marred by someone saying something about the food with appalling insensitivity? Have you ever seen the smiles vanish at a holiday gathering when a thoughtless comment is said so loudly it’s impossible to ignore? It is regrettable, but true, that we seem to guard our tongues less when we’re around folks we’re familiar with–almost as if we deserve a pass with them because it’s “just who we are” after all. But these are the very people we are to love the most!
Jesus gives his disciples a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn. 13:34 NIV). And Paul gives us further instruction under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29 NIV). Is this what characterizes our speech? By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s help it will more and more.
One of the primary ways we show our thankfulness is by our words, whether written or spoken. During the week of Thanksgiving we have a double opportunity to gather as a church family and testify to God’s goodness in our lives: our quarterly Evening of Worship (on Nov. 20th) as well as our annual Thanksgiving Eve service on the 23rd! Please come out both nights and be blessed. We have so much for which to be thankful; may our testimonies be heard by everyone we are around–family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, believers and unbelievers alike.
All believers recognize that we have plenty of opportunities to share generously with others at this time of year. Be careful not to fall into the rut of thinking about our generosity exclusively in material (and primarily in monetary) terms. I certainly do pray that as a congregation we will be generous in our contributions to ACTC, Operation Christmas Child, and the Christian Community Center at our White Gift Service. However, I also pray that we would be generous with gracious speech to and about one another. Our tongue is such a small part of our body and our words seem not to last very long that we tend to speak before we think about the other person. Yet even well intentioned words can hurt; we should be aware of not only what we say, but how and when we say it.
James gives us this well known caution: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Ja. 1:19 NIV). What a challenge when we are used to saying what we think when we think of it! It may be particularly difficult for us on Sundays because we don’t see others during the week and so we think this might be the only chance to say something. Let me humbly ask that the Lord’s Day be a day of rest from words that might tear someone down. Instead, may we continue to grow to be like the Thessalonians about whom Paul testifies: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thes. 5:11 NIV).
Have a blessed November,
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Ps. 141:3)