OK, so I don’t watch a lot of the late night comedians. I don’t find a lot of their schtick funny. However, last week’s debate about the Letterman/Palin controversy again reminded me of something that I’ve let slip in my own walk with God: the power of the tongue, specifically, but the power of words in general. As I thought about this, the text of James 3 . and just how powerful that chapter continues to be.
As I ponder James’ words, I realize that they’re not just a guide to how to avoid “sinning out loud” but a guide to a countercultural way of being in the world. They remind me that anyone who aspires to lead, particularly teach, has a far higher standard to live up to. This runs against the celebrity culture that has even permeated our churches, a culture that says that just because you’re “somebody”, you can say anything you want and not expect there to be blowback.
Bull! The truth of the matter is that words kill. As an aspiring teacher, and as a leader at work, I’ve learned, (unfortunately, the hard way sometimes), that what I say can either lift someone up, or it can bring them down. It’s a needed reminder to me that I am called to seek God’s wisdom about speaking the truth in love, not just the old axiom of “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.
The fact is, sometimes as leaders, we have to say the not-so-nice things. Sometimes we have to confront people and issues head-on, and not be afraid to call blarney. But there is a way to do so without tearing the person down. James’ reminder about wisdom (see verses 13-18) provide needed illumination on just how that should work.
The biggest thing is that I need to confront my motives. In this “say anything” culture, this is of huge importance. If what’s about to be said comes from pride, bitterness, jealousy, or narcissism (even though James doesn’t use that last word), I have to confess it as sin and let it go even before I say it. This is something that I honestly stink at a lot of the time.
If, however, there is a point I need to make, I’m called to do so gently and humbly, aware of my own faults and not in a way that shames the other person. This is the other counter to the “say anything” culture that thrives on manipulation and cynicism in order to get its point across. I may be naive in saying that, but I believe that if we as Christians model, both in what we say and how we live, this whole idea of keeping a guard over our words, we won’t be adding fuel to the fires that rage in our culture, and instead be helping create a much gentler society.