Former US President Harry Truman had a rule: Any letters written in anger had to sit on his desk for 24 hours before they could be mailed. If at the end of that “cooling off” period, he still felt the same sentiments, he would send the letter. By the end of his life, Truman’s unmailed letters filled a large desk drawer.
How often in this age of immediate communication would even 24 minutes of wise restraint spare us embarrassment! In his epistle, James addressed a universal theme in human history when he wrote about the damage an uncontrolled tongue can bring. “No man can tame the tongue,” he wrote. “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8).
When we’re gossiping or speaking in anger, we find ourselves outside the lines of what God desires. Our tongues, our pens, and even our keyboards should more often fall silent with thanks in our hearts for the restraint God provides. All too often, when we speak we remind everyone of our brokenness as human beings.
When we want to surprise others with the difference Christ makes, we may need to look no further than restraining our tongue. Others can’t help but notice when we honor God with what we say—or don’t say.
Help me, Lord, to use my words not to tear down others or build up my own reputation, but to seek the good of others first, and in so doing to serve You and Your kingdom.
Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. —Proverbs 21:23
In today’s passage, James writes about Christian maturity. One of the characteristics of maturity is self-control, particularly control of the tongue. Fortunately, we are not responsible for developing it by willpower alone. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23).
During my days as a teacher and coach at a Christian high school, I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with teenagers, trying to guide them to a purposeful, Christlike life—characterized by love for God and love for others. My goal was to prepare them to live for God throughout life. That would happen only as they made their faith a vital part of life through the help of the Holy Spirit. Those who didn’t follow Christ floundered after they left the influence of Christian teachers and parents.
This is demonstrated in the story of King Joash of Judah and his uncle Jehoiada. Jehoiada, a wise counselor, influenced Joash to live a God-honoring life (2 Chron. 24:11,14).
The problem was that Joash did not embrace an honorable life as his own. After Jehoiada died, King Joash “left the house of the LORD” (v.18) and began to worship in a pagan way. He turned and became so evil that he had Jehoiada’s son murdered (vv.20–22).
Having someone in our lives to guide us toward faith and Christlikeness can be good and helpful. Even better is getting to know the Lord ourselves and learning to rely on the Holy Spirit to be our guide (Gal. 5:16). That is making our faith personal.
Lord, thank You for the people in my life who influence me toward following You. Help me not to depend on them primarily—but to depend on Your Holy Spirit to guide me.
The faith of others encourages; a faith of our own transforms.
Joash was the youngest king to reign in Jerusalem. Because he was 7 years old when his reign began, he was in special need of guidance. In the New Testament, Paul highlights the importance of mentors when he says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Hiking in the mountains of Utah, Coty Creighton spotted a goat that didn’t look like the rest of the herd. A closer look revealed that the unusual animal was actually a man dressed as a goat. When authorities contacted the man, he described his costume as a painter’s suit covered in fleece, and he said he was testing his disguise for a hunting trip.
The hunter’s deception reminds me of Jesus’ words: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). False teachers do not bear the fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Rather, they “walk according to the flesh . . . and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10). They are bold, egotistical, and given to greed (vv.10,14). Ruled by their own desires, they exploit people by using “deceptive words” (v.3). The Bible says these wayward spiritual leaders are headed for destruction and will take many unsuspecting and undiscerning people with them (vv.1-2).
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rather than pursuing personal gain, laid down His life for His sheep. God does not want anyone to be misled by false teaching. He wants us to be aware of those who deceive, and follow Him instead—the true Shepherd of our souls.
At the name of Jesus Every knee shall bow, Every tongue confess Him, King of glory now. —Noel