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Taming the tongue

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Seventeenth Sunday of Pentecost – September 16, 2018

Mark 8:27-38; Psalm 19 and James 3:1-12

There’s a family I know who has shared a little piece of their lives with me. They had reached a stage that was incredibly busy and challenging because all three sons had reached their teenage years. (Lord help them if it was three teenage girls!). One evening their family dynamics were at an all time low. Eye rolls, imitating each other in a negative way, sarcasm, words thrown around with a questionable tone. The father finally got up from the dinner table, stomped across the floor to the desk area and pulled out a sheet of paper. He angrily wrote down a few words and taped it to the cupboard door. Then he left the room. The scrawled message read:“80 % of communication problems are due to the wrong tone of voice.” Well, the mother explained to me how the room went quiet. Everyone’s eyes dropped down. After a few minutes, it actually prompted some great discussion as the four of them tried to understand why Dad was so angry with them. Apparently that quote is still popular in their home. When someone has a poor tone to their voice, you might hear their mother say, “Ew, did you hear your voice just now?”

“80 % of communication problems are due to the wrong tone of voice.”

Think about that for a minute. When I first heard this estimate, I was skeptical. I didn’t quite believe it!  But then I began to watch the dynamics in my own home,in the workplace and in different social settings. Tone of voice played a huge part in communication…or should I say a “huge part in ‘miscommunication’?

Not only tone of voice but words, words are so powerful. Our reading from James today hits home hard….’the taming of the tongue.’ As verse 6 points out…Out of the heart come all kinds of evil, and the first place they go is the tongue. How many of us have wished we had not said that careless word or made that too quick response? You more than likely have to face the same people again and it’s so much harder when a careless or angry exchange has happened.

Verse 2 broadens the importance of the tongue. A mature person, James says, is easily recognised if he or she can control their tongue. Because the whole body follows what the tongue says, verses 3-8 graphically illustrate the power of the tongue.

The tongue is compared to a rudder for a ship, a small fire to a forest fire, and a bit for a horse. These small things do control their larger complements. So the tongue manages one’s life. In verse 8, James declares it evil. He is referring to all the misuses of the tongue, such as gossip, backbiting, slander.

If James was preaching here today, there would be yet another factor to consider. This factor was not relevant in past Biblical times but has become increasingly powerful in our present life. It has to do with words; but not face-to-face communication. Can you guess what I’m getting at?

Of course, Social Media. The power of words in social media is now a new challenge that James would have to include. Not only ‘taming the tongue’ but ‘taming the thumbs.’ Words are used immediately, often without thought, a knee-jerk reaction. But they aren’t just given to one person at a time. They are dispersed to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at once. For sure yes, the ability to communicate to the masses is useful in many situations. But when the authors are sending tweets that are inflammatory, racist or damaging, it can create a pretty harsh world. How do you think James would handle this situation?

It’s not just the communication that reaches the masses. What about the single text that harasses a single person?  Now bullies don’t have to do their damage in front of others, where there are potential witnesses. No, they can slander and harass from their own home computers with no worry about face-to-face communication. 

Think of how cyberbullying, shaming, and blaming continues to be a growing problem. We’ve heard the stories of teenagers actually committing suicide after being bullied over the internet. Christians can use the words from James to help shape a place online that is much safer. We are called to make a difference.

James considers the tongue, the instrument of words, a tyrant that is managed by an even greater power, the human heart. The words we say reflect much of what we are inside. What is inside of our hearts?  We need to remember that God our creator, has created us in his image. What is inside God’s heart?

James’ lesson today is timeless. Let us use his lesson as a reminder in our own lives and ponder the following words which seem to sum it up:  

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

 

Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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