I got a paper cut today.
It amazes me how a wound as minor as a paper cut can cause such a significant level of discomfort. A tiny little cut … a slice, made by a wimpy piece of paper, no less. Yet the pain it has wrought captures my attention and dominates my world for the moment. I shake it, as though trying to fling the pain from the end of my finger. No joy. I put it to my lips and gently suck on it. I have no idea what this is supposed to accomplish, but for some reason it seems the proper thing to do. It doesn’t help. I wrap the opposing hand around the damaged finger and squeeze tightly. I am starting to feel unmanly.
Seemingly small objects can be broad in their impact. I nursed my little paper cut, and as I did so, I was reminded of James telling us how the human tongue, though small, is a fire, a world of evil, untamed and full of deadly poison. While a child and an adolescent, I was pretty sensitive to the cruel words of those around me. How often we hear the clichéd refrain, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” What a load of crap. Words can hurt, deeply. And they do hurt. In some cases, the hurt can last for years.
We each have choices regarding how we employ our tongue. We can use it to harm, or we can use it to heal. We can use it to praise, or we can use it to profane. James tells us in 3:10-11, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (NIV) The apostle Paul echoes the same idea in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (NASB)
How do I accomplish this seemingly insurmountable goal? If James is correct, that we have tamed all kinds of animals, but no man can tame the tongue, then what hope is there for me to pull off this lofty objective? The answer to this question is a return to that recurring theme I bring up so frequently that people tire of hearing it – God is far less concerned with what I do than he is with what I want to do. He is far less concerned with my hands than he is with my heart. His interest is in what I love, what I am passionate about, what I pursue. If I love what he loves, I will speak kindly to those around me. If my passion is his passion, no unwholesome word will escape my lips, because that word is not in my heart to begin with. Here is how Jesus explains it, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45, NASB)
When I sign books for readers, it is my habit to include one of my favorite Proverbs, “Guard your heart with diligence, for it is the wellspring of life.” (4:23) Let your speech today be full of grace, seasoned as with salt, that it may edify those who hear you.
Victoriously in Christ!