With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Speech and communication are one of the great gifts God has given to us and all people. We learn it very young and it is really helpful to get around with, much easier than being deaf and mute. It enables us to convey complex ideas to one another, to understand each other. It’s essential to our lives, even those deaf and mute have created sign language to communicate. Without communication, with words or gestures, we would not be able to relate to each other. Without speech or language we would be alone, it is how we know each other and our needs. To relate to someone means to talk with them. To relate to God means to talk with Him.
God has given us speech, and how do we use this gift? Do you use it to show how you care for others? To help and guide others? To teach truth? To build each other up, glorify God, promise good? Or to promise evil? To gossip? To lie or mislead? To bring others down and so curse them? Does your tongue both curse people, and praise God? My siblings in Christ, this should not be.
God’s words have power, He speaks, things happen. It is the similar with our words, what we say and how we say it has consequences. We heard today God addressing this through James, that the tongue is like a ship’s rudder, small but with big effects. Just a small fire can destroy a whole forest, and the tongue is a fire. We all know of times where someone has said something hurtful, to bring another down and it has worked, maybe they said it to you, or you said those words to another. But also, we know of when something kind or helpful was said and how that lightens the day of the hearer, again maybe you heard it or said it. We know that words can and do affect others. They build up and tear down relationships. And that maybe why God gave two commandments in those ten about our speech.
The eight commandment is, ‘you will not bear false witness’ or do not lie. What does this mean? Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully believe, betray, slander, or defame our neighbour, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” To speak well of others is God’s will, so how can we insult others and bring them down? The tongue is a guide for our lives, we hear our words and listen to them; if you say someone is a liar, you will treat them like one. And more you have rejected God’s way and are seeking destruction. So do not speak to curse or destroy others, while praising the God who created them in His image. That is not why God gave us speech, it’s not His way.
His way is shown by Christ, and through His Word and the Bible. By God’s grace we are His people, and He has given us the privilege to know Him and to be able to speak with Him, to pray. The second commandment is the gift of God’s name, “You will not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” Here Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” In giving us His name God is telling us to use it, to call on Him to pray. Just as Jesus took the time to speak with His Father, we too can talk with Him, and what is a relationship without communication? We are invited to praise God for what He has done for us and what He can do; invited to give thanks for His mercy and grace; invited to pray and ask Him to help us when we are in need. To help us keep His word, to stay on His way and to control our tongue. He has done so much for you, giving you speech, a good reputation, allowing you to speak with Him, and He promises to hear you. He has given you this great gift of prayer. Do you use it? Or do you rely on your own strength and advice?
Many people pray as an after thought, as I have done many times in the past, or people pray as a last resort, when they are desperate. Imagine if that was the only time we spoke to our family friends and loved ones, those relationships would suffer. So why do we do this to the one who has saved us from death and freed us from sin’s cage? The Father sent His only child to die for you, to adopt you and save you. And Jesus, His Son, willing gave up His own life to bring you life. The Good News is that you are saved from sin’s power, you are God’s children, His heirs, you have life forever with Christ, God loves and cares for you. Praying doesn’t save you, it doesn’t wash away your sins, Jesus Christ’s blood and the waters of Baptism are what cleanse you. But prayer does help, it helps us rely on God, to remember His ways, to speak His word and to control our tongue. And when you fail to pray, take some comfort that Jesus has and does intercede for you (John 17; Romans 8:34), and the Holy Spirit prays for you in groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). God has given us so many gifts, life and life eternal, forgiveness, peace, speech and so much more. So be careful to use speech and use it well.
And His peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham