James offers a clear warning: harsh, critical, damaging language has no place in a faithful life. The text suggests it’s impossible for the two to coexist: “Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs?” James asks. Then he answers, “No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”
No Christian wants to cause harm. Every one of us believes we’re doing the right thing or, at the very least, that our responses are justified. None of us sets out to inflict pain or emotional damage on our loved ones or communities. Yet modern American Christianity is characterized largely by infighting, anger, and bitterness. How do we change? When we interact with people who have either hurt us or who we believe are hurting others, how do we move past our indignation to extend grace and compassion to one another?
Even as James describes the problem, he hints at the solution: We can remember that each person is created in the image of God. We tend to see ourselves as complex beings and weigh our motivations as heavily as our results. We view ourselves as capable of love, kindness, faithfulness, and grace, even when we act in a manner that does not line up with such values. Do we extend the same gracious perspective to others? Are we looking for glimpses of God’s nature within each person we meet? We hold tightly to the parts of our lives that reflect God’s image and judge our misbehavior in their light. Do we look for God’s image within others as well, buried beneath their own mountains of pain and good intentions?
God, help us see your reflection within every person we meet. Only then can we change our attitudes and language toward others. Amen.
Through the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God shows the paths of righteousness and warns against the ways of destruction. The writer of Proverbs describes this as the voice of Wisdom crying out, yet some refuse to listen—to their peril. The psalmist rejoices in the law of the Lord, for God’s decrees teach us how to live well. Living a godly life includes paying attention to our speech. How can we, James asks, praise God with our lips and then curse others with those same lips? Peter is tripped up by his words in Mark. He declares Jesus to be the Messiah, yet in the next scene he recklessly rebukes Jesus for speaking of his death. Our words matter, and God desires purity and consistency.
• Read Proverbs 1:20-33. How clearly can you hear Wisdom’s call? What keeps you from answering?
• Read Psalm 19. How do your words and your heart’s meditations reflect your faith? Do you think God finds them acceptable?
• Read James 3:1-12. Consider your words. Do they honor the image of God in those to whom you speak?
• Read Mark 8:27-38. When has God called you to be silent? Were you better able to hear an unexpected call from God?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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