Salt Water Taste from a Fresh Water Spring
James is an incredibly hard-hitting book, filled with practical living advice that cuts straight to the heart. If you are ever in need of a swift kick to the stomach, then James is the place to go. His message is no-nonsense and presents strong, clear challenges to Christians on how they should be living every day. No one walks away from reading James feeling proud of themselves, but rather they are all the more grateful for the mercy and grace we have because of Jesus.
“With the tongue, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
James 3:9-12 ESV
This is an incredibly powerful and convicting passage, that relentlessly articulates the harsh consequences of a seldom addressed topic: the issue of gossip. In a culture that praises people for being “salty” and merciless with their words, gossip and slander have become some of the greatest obstacles to unity among believers that plagues the Church today. Above doctrinal differences, traditional preferences, and all other biases, gossip—the quiet slighting, word exchanged between two confidants—is responsible for more damage than any force within the community of believers. Just as every kind, loving word spoken in encouragement plants seeds of redemption in the lives of all that hear it, every caustic, dishonoring remark we make sows seeds of scorn that will sprout into a harvest of hatred and discord whether we want it to or not.
Moreover, James draws a direct parallel between our words and opinions spoken towards man and our words and opinions towards God. The two are inseparably linked: to despise the creation is to despise the Creator. What we say about the people around us, created in God’s image, candidly reflects what we think about the God. Effectively what James is asking is: would you say that same thing to God? If not, then why did you say it?
Words are powerful. With His words, God spoke the universe into existence. He called forth the sun and separated the heavens from the earth. He declared sin and death defeated, and, one day, He will return to reclaim the earth with “a sharp two-edged sword going forth out of His mouth” (Revelation 1:16). Every time we speak, we are confronted with a choice: to create or to destroy. In one way or another, every word we choose to communicate will ultimately end up in one of those two categories, and we will be held accountable for each and every one.
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person, out of his good treasure, brings forth good, and the evil person, out of his evil treasure, brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak.“
Matthew 12:35-36 ESV
That thought is absolutely petrifying. Let me make myself clear. I say these things, not as one making orders and calling out others mistakes from an ivory tower, but, rather, as one burrowed in the trenches, desperately fighting alongside others to tame the tongue and leave a legacy of love and encouragement as opposed to one of derision and belittlement, but often, I feel as though I am fighting a losing battle. I fully understand why both of these passages seem so harsh and unforgiving. They lay out their message clearly so that no one is left without excuse: what comes out of the mouth reveals what is in the heart. When we speak deridingly of others, it says very little about the true condition of that person; instead, it speaks wonders to the evil stored up within us.
What more can I say except praise be to God for the mercy and forgiveness that we have in Christ! We are all sinful, decaying beings, hopeless without someone to help us, but we can and we will find that help in Christ. By His strength, we can overcome this sin that has so saturated our day-to-day lives that we overlook it for fear of having to stare down the tyrannical, unforgiving beast face-to-face. It is raging, ugly Goliaths just like this that Christ went to the cross to forgive and to defeat. We need to do no more than to go before His throne in repentance and ask for His strength to take up this battle once more, and it is through this battle, that we can begin to restore the unity of believers within each of our own individual worlds.
With the solidarity and renewed strength found in Christ,
“He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:29-31 NIV