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  • Writer's pictureAllison Wilcox

Waging war with words

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. ~ James 3:1-12

It almost seems as if James knew what it was to live in a 24/7 politically divided news cycle. (although he probably didn't foresee social media)

Words feel like the enemy more than anything else these days. Sometimes those words are spewed by politicians against their rivals...and then back again, like an unpleasant tennis volley.

Sometimes they are words that incite violence.


Words can break apart friendships and even congregations. I have heard terrible words spoken to people at meetings about church business - from the people you'd least expect.

The 10 Commandments had something to say about words that hurt: Do not bear false witness against your neighbor. While we tend to think of that just as lying, it is more than that. And I love Luther's explanation in his Small Catechism. (since I criticized Luther recently, it is only fair that I praise him as well!) 😊

"We are to fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

And when we remember that Jesus had a pretty expansive view of who are neighbors are, we can take that to mean, we shouldn't have unkind words for anyone.

It's a hard thing to live up to, and I'm not sure we are going to see any big changes in the broad spectrum of conversation in this world. But James knew the power of the tongue, and maybe if we remember that as well, we can at least start in our small neck of the woods.

Dear God, help me to not take part in wars with words, and instead in all things, speak with love. Amen

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