Margin notes: Speaking with forked tongues.


James 3:4–10 (ESV) — 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

We live right now in a nation deeply divided. And there is no question that great worldview and life issues are at hand. We no longer just have a “Left” a “Right” or “Moderates” – we have loud and vociferous extremes on all sides. The stakes are high. And passion can easily spill over into personal attacks, vilification, slander and all manner of unseemly talk regarding those with whom we disagree.

And here is a very, very great danger for the Christian. For while it is fitting to declare the truth and necessary to have a voice in the marketplace, we must be ever so careful not to find ourselves cursing people “who are made in the likeness of God” – and then hypocritically imagine we can bless our Lord and Father with the same tongue.

We can’t.

And as if it were not enough that we curse those of opposing parties, it seems now that we have given ourselves permission to curse even other Believers if they disagree with our stance, ever so slightly. To cease from making sound arguments about ideas, philosophies and points of view, and instead to smear others with imputed motives; make iron-clad bonds of guilt by even the most remote associations; and to view any deviation from our own formulation not only with suspicion, but with certain condemnation. And this, while imaging we can stroll into the House of God in a Sunday and bless God with a clear conscience.

We can’t.

As Calvin wrote: “It is unbearable hypocrisy for man to use the same tongue in blessing God that he uses in cursing men. When such evil speaking prevails, there can be no calling on God. His praises must necessarily cease. For it is impious profanation of God’s name when the tongue is hostile toward our brethren and pretends only to praise God. Therefore, if we would rightly praise God, we must especially correct the vice of speaking evil to our neighbor.

This particular truth ought to be kept in mind that severe critics display their own hostility, when, after offering praises in sweet strains to God, they suddenly vomit forth against their brethren whatever curses they can imagine. Were anyone to object and say that the image of God in human nature has been blotted out by the sin of Adam, we must, indeed, confess that it has been miserably deformed, but in such a way that some of its original features still appear. Righteousness and rectitude and the freedom of choosing what is good have been lost, but many excellent endowments by which we excel the brutes still remain. He, then, who truly worships and honors God will be afraid to speak slanderously of man.”

Let us be clear, zealous, vocal and passionate for the truth. But let us never forget the Spirit’s words to us in the text of James above. Let us never forget that each one is made in the image of God – and that our goal is to see them reconciled to God through Christ, above proving them wrong.

It’s hard to win those we have cursed and verbally crucified.

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