“Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We planted a garden this year. We try to do one every year. We don’t put a whole lot in our garden, but we do have some staples. Squash and zucchini are two of those staples. This year, we planted three squash plants and two zucchini plants. But, once the vegetables started coming to bear, four plants were yielding squash. Do you know what we said? It’s a miracle!
I’m only kidding. As cool as that would have been, our conclusion was that we must have planted four squash plants and one zucchini plant. Do you know why? Because zucchini plants don’t yield squash.
Now that I have you amazed with my powers of scientific observation, let’s talk about what James is saying here. We recently spent a couple of days looking at James’ comments about religion. The big idea, was that the worthwhileness of a religion is going to be determined by the worthwhileness of the God being worshiped. Given that the Christian God is fundamentally good, if your pursuits of the Christian religion aren’t causing a flourishing of good in your life and in the world around you, you’re not doing it right.
Before allowing us to make such a generalized conclusion, though, James made a specific assertion about religion. Do you remember what it was? He said that if religion (and he was talking about the Christian religion) cannot even help you control your tongue, it’s worthless.
Now, if you really stop and think about this, it’s a pretty challenging assertion. This is particularly true given the greater and greater flippancy in our culture when it comes to the use of words. We throw words around like they are cheap, and the words we choose to throw around most these days are often hurtful ones. The perceived anonymity and physical distance created by things like social media, have encouraged us to become…bold…with our words in ways that often do much more harm than good.
Almost as if he was anticipating this modern problem— or perhaps, simply because it has always been a human problem—James comes back to the subject of our words here in chapter 3. And while the specific application of what he says here is primarily for teachers, it applies to everyone else as well. What James says here at the end of this section, takes the assertion he made back in 1:26 and makes it even more uncomfortable.
As followers of Jesus, our entire being should reflect who He is. That includes our words. Every single word out of our mouths or off our fingers, should reflect the grace and goodness of our God. The words of our God are always intended to encourage, build up, and cause life to flourish; ours should do the same. James goes so far as to say words designed to build up and words intended to tear down should not come from the same mouth.
He illustrates this by pointing to a couple of features of nature. If you have a spring of freshwater, you do not expect to find salt water coming out of it. And if you find a spring of brackish water, you do not expect sweet water to come out of it. In the same way, James says, you don’t look to a fig tree to produce olives. Again, when our zucchini plant started producing squash, we did not conclude a miracle had happened. We concluded that it had always been a squash plant. We were in error in our initial judgment.
Well, when it comes to the words out of the mouth or off of the fingers of a follower of Jesus, we should only expect to find one kind: the life-giving kind. A single harsh word may just be a blip on the radar, but when there is a pattern of harsh words or gossip or words designed to defame someone’s character or anything else along these lines, we have a problem. The problem is either that something is polluting the well and it needs to be cleaned before it is destroyed and rendered worthless, or else we were in error in our assumption about what kind of well it was from the beginning.
If you are a squash plant, you are not going to produce zucchini. If you are a zucchini plant, you are not going to produce squash. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not going to consistently produce words that tear down. That’s simply not how it works. If you do, then there’s something wrong with your confession. You need to go back to the beginning and examine if it really took hold like you thought it did. That may sound harsh, but our words are possessed of sufficient power that it is necessary.
If you are a follower of Jesus, may your words be consistent with your confession, and may you sow the seeds of life everywhere you go.