Monday, October 02, 2006

Sticks and Stones are Better

Remember that old adage that we use to say as kids when someone made fun of us? "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me." We liked to think that this had some type of invisible force field that would allow insults to simply bounce right off of us. The truth is that there has never been a more inaccurate saying in the history of American childhood. Let’s be honest. Words hurt and the hurt goes deep. In most every case, I would prefer sticks and stones over negative words any day.

In James 3:5-12, we learn several truths about the tongue and our speech. We first learn that the tongue is very dangerous. James commands us to understand that in the same way that one small spark can ignite a forest fire, so the tongue, though small, is capable of creating havoc. Like a fire, the tongue is capable of catastrophic destruction. To speak of the tongue as a fire was a well known Old Testament concept (Psalm 120:3-4; Proverbs 16:27; 26:21; Isaiah 30:27). The tongue is capable of great evil and can defile the entire body and our reputations. Fallen man shows himself to be part of this evil world’s system by the usage of his tongue (Matthew 15:10-20; Mark 7:15-23)

James goes as far as teaching that the tongue can easily become Satan’s tool used for Satan’s purposes. It is set on fire by hell. The word translated “hell” is the word “Gehenna.” All other usages of this in the New Testament were used by Jesus in the synoptic Gospels (Mark 9:43-44; Matthew 5:22). It literally means “valley of Hinnom” which was a deep gorge on the southwest side of Jerusalem where garbage and the dead bodies of animals and executed criminals were dumped and continually burned. In the Old Testament it is where the worship of Baal and Molech caused Israelites to sacrifice their children by fire (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). Because the fire burned all the time and maggots were present, Jesus used this word to represent eternal hell. I will write more about Gehenna in tomorrow's blog.

The tongue is also defiant (v7-8). James says that virtually every creature known today can be tamed by man. However, the tongue cannot be tamed by human means alone. This is why David asks God to set a guard over his mouth and to keep watch over the door of his lips (Psalm 141:3). The tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. The word “restless” means “unstable” and described a wild animal fighting against captivity. Its venom is worse than a snake because it can destroy more than the body

Finally, the tongue is deceitful (v9-12). With the same tongue we bless the Lord and we curse men (v9-10). How can we use our tongue to bless God and then turn right around with the same tongue and curse man who is made in the image of the God we just blessed? There is no place in the Christian’s life for this type of verbal hypocrisy. The words “ought not” (v10) is a strong negative in the Greek language used only here in the entire New Testament. This goes against every form of logic and example of reason (v11-12). Does a fountain send out both fresh and bitter water from the same opening? Does a fig tree produce both figs and olives or an olive branch produce both olives and figs? Does salt water produce fresh water and salt water? In my opinion, sticks and stones are better.

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