These days intense, sustained periods of reading evade me. I’m either too busy or too tired to read like I used to do for hours or sometimes the entire day. Nevertheless, when possible I’m enjoying chunks of James. Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell have provided a clear, accessible, and thorough treatment of the text.
Early on in James’s letter he issues a three-fold command to all believers: Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (1:19). A few verses later he warns that a loose tongue results in self-deception (1:26). Blomberg and Kamell have some keen insights that are helpful for me and I trust they will be for you.
Care in speaking coincides with empathy in listening and will help us be slow to anger as well. Here is a caution for Christian leaders to take particularly to heart. Because so much of their ministry involves speaking, it would be unrealistic to be commanded to speak little. But they can always try to think first, hear other people’s perspectives, and have their tempers under control before they speak. The child’s taunt that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a bald-faced lie. Hurtful words can pack quite a wallop!
The punch that this verse provides involves James’s assertion about “religion” that consistently cannot keep its speech within proper constraints as worthless or futile. Almost all Christians struggle with gossip or badmouthing others—talking about them behind their backs with inaccurate information or without any constructive purpose (even when disguised as prayer requests!). And in this age of quasi-illiterate text-messaging, out-of-control email, overused cell phones, endless personal websites, blogsites and “facebook,” and the inanity of most of what is posted on myspace.com, it is easy to spend large amounts of time producing or imbibing just vain drivel!
In other words, an economy of words are likely to result in better understanding with fewer angry outbursts. Proverbially speaking, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). Not only is James’s three-fold command a good reminder for our digital day of “vain drivel,” but Paul’s exhortation applies to all human dialog regardless of media.
Let no corrupting [“unwholesome”, NIV] talk come out of your mouths [or find its way on your blog posts, tweets, texts, et al.], but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
As I’ve said elsewhere (recounting Dallas Willard’s sage advice) “silence provides opportunity to respect others’ need to be heard” and it “frees us from the temptation to control people or circumstances with our words.”