Here in this fifth and final lesson, James talks to us about our troublesome tongues.
James 2:12 James cautions us to be careful of how we speak and what we say. We must learn, says James, to control our communication with others. It's one of the criteria by which we will be judged. "So speak, and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty".
Christ is not only our Saviour, but he is also our Lawgiver and Judge. It is true that there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
However, that does not give us the liberty to do and say whatever we please. We must "so speak and so act" as our Master commands and left us an example.
In his letter, James alludes to many kinds of wrong speaking. We will start in chapter one and notice each occurrence as we come to it, working our way through the letter.
Twisted truth James 1:13 "Let no one say, 'I am tempted by God'". This is an example of a twisted truth. God allows us to be tempted, and strengthens us in our temptations, so he is certainly involved in our temptations —not divorced from them. God bears definite responsibilities in our temptations (see 1Corinthians 10:13).
However to say that God is tempting us, or that he is causing us to be tempted, is twisting the truth. The twisted truth, and its first cousin the half-truth, are among the most popular forms of lying.
Angry words James 1:19-20 "Let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God".
When our anger is like God's anger, when it is a righteous anger, then it will achieve the righteousness of God. Angry words, however, are often unjustified, ill considered, and therefore do a lot of harm.
This verse does not say, "Do not be angry". It says, rather, "Be slow to anger". Consider your reasons, your motives, and your words, before you express your wrath.
Idle words James 1:26 "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue this man's religion is worthless". It is not just in moments of anger that we must control the tongue, but at all times. A joke, a piece of news, whatever — if it cannot be uttered to good purpose, it should not be uttered at all (cf Ephesians4:29 and James 1:21).
Flattery James 2:3 "If you pay special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes and say, 'You sit here in a good place' have you not evil motives?". Paying or accepting a well-deserved compliment, or expression of respect, is good. However, beware of flattering speech and the motives behind it.
Insults James 2:3,6 "If you say to the poor man, 'You stand up over there or sit down by my footstool,' you have dishonoured the man". It is easy to put people down, but it isn't right.
Insincerity James 2:15-16 "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed, and be filled' —and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" Talk, they say, is cheap. We, however, should always say what we mean, and mean what we say.
Bitterness James 3:9-10 "Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a fountain give fresh and bitter water from the same opening?"
To express regret, disappointment, disapproval, and such like, is not to be "bitter". Can you clarify what is? It has to do with grudges, blaming, not letting go and leaving vengeance to God. It has to do with focussing on past evil instead of good whether in past, present, or future.
Quarrelling James 4:1-2 "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? you are envious so you fight and quarrel". We will have disagreements from time to time, and these may become quite serious. However, we should not have fights and quarrels. The difference is simple...
A disagreement is (or should be) an attempt to reach agreement and to be united on what is right. A quarrel on the other hand is a fight that hurts and destroys. Those involved in a quarrel view each other as the enemy.
Boasting James 4:16 "All such boasting is evil". Nobody likes an arrogant person, however God often sees as arrogance what we accept as normal. All the people are saying, whom James calls boastful, is that they are going to some city to make money!
Their "boast" is not from pride as we commonly perceive it. We ourselves are very likely to say similar things, not realizing that we are boasting by leaving the will of God out of the picture, forgetting that it is not within man to direct his own steps.
Complaining James 5:9 "Do not complain against one another". This must be a fairly common problem, because we have a lot of words for it: complain, grumble, whinge, gripe, nag, carp, grizzle... the list goes on. Sometimes it may be legitimate to lodge a complaint about something. But grumbling and griping about each other on every little point real or imagined is destructive.
Swearing James 5:12 "Above all, my brethren, do not swear..." . Swearing and blasphemy commonly express ordinary reactions such as surprise ("Bloody oath!") or amusement ("Oh my God!"), or annoyance. People use oaths for the most mundane assertions. We need to keep our speech free from such things.
As an exercise, you might like to comb through the book of Proverbs for wise sayings about the tongue and our manner of speech.