Loving our neighbor requires taming our tongue. The art of maintaining strong relationships requires obedience to the teachings of Jesus about loving our neighbor. One way we sometimes fall short of this command is in the words we say to and about others. Words can be encouraging or destructive, and each day we must choose which type of words we will use.
Lessons from James on Taming Our Tongue
This summer, I have been doing a mini-study of the book of James with a few women from my Bible Study Fellowship group. I find chapter 3, which we discussed this week, very convicting. Taming my tongue is definitely something I struggle with.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
James 3:3-8 (NIV).
Thankfully, I don’t have to try to accomplish this impossible feat on my own. The Holy Spirit helps me, if only I will ask.
Do Relationships Matter?
But why should we even care if we tame our tongue? If someone hurts me, don’t they deserve whatever response I choose to give back? I mean, I can’t help it if someone makes me angry by what they say or do. Right?
Besides, relationships aren’t important anyway. And I can always say I’m sorry and all will be forgiven and put to rights.
But will it? If what James wrote is true, it may not.
A Beautiful Memory
We’ve strolled down Front Street in historic Lahaina on the island of Maui, Hawaii many times on vacation. I remember:
- lunch at Bubba Gump’s on the water or upstairs at Captain Jack’s;
- shopping at Maui Divers Jewelers or the Honolulu Cookie Company;
- hanging out under the beautiful banyan tree that took up an entire city block; and
- leaving the harbor in a boat for a snorkel tour or a submarine for a deep dive.
But those activities are only memories now. Although there are plenty of other things we love to do on Maui, and hope to do again some day, strolling the streets of Lahaina will not be one of them.
An Object Lesson in Desolation
Its history is what made Lahaina so special. Now the news of the devastating wildfire that essentially destroyed the entire town last week and killed at least 93 people and counting is Lahaina’s history. The recovery and rebuilding is its future.
Some reports indicate that the banyan tree may have survived. This amazing tree boasted numerous trunks and a massive root system. It appeared to be many trees, but its interconnected branches and roots proved it was a single, massive organism.
Pictures and videos of Lahaina after this unexpected firestorm swept through its streets—leaving in its wake nothing but ash and rubble where once houses, restaurants, historic sites, and thriving businesses stood—are heartbreaking. Lahaina will never be the same. The fire destroyed what was. Only time will tell what might be. Residents can and will rebuild some of the houses and businesses, but they can’t replace the original historic buildings.
Love Doesn’t Destroy Its Neighbor
Relationships burned by the fire of the tongue can be just as devastated, forever altered, pieces destroyed and unrecoverable. A new relationship may be forged and rebuilt where the old trust and comradery have been destroyed, but it will never be the same. The devastation can be heartbreaking.
I’ve seen it happen in my own life. Sometimes as a bystander and sometimes as the target of the flaming tongue of fire. Where the damage is too great, there is little hope for reconciliation. At least not without God’s intervention.
These experiences are a reminder to me to tame my own tongue so that I do not destroy my own relationships or damage the relationships of others.
The Key to Survival Is Jesus
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the Lahaina banyan tree. I’ve said several times that I hope it survives. If it receives the water and care that it needs, it might.
The only reason it even has a chance is because of its deep roots and interconnectedness. The banyan stood strong in the depth of its being, unlike the lone palm trees nearby that the firestorm scorched to the ground.
Like that banyan tree, a person who has deep roots in the Word of God, has a better chance of surviving the onslaught of anger from someone who has not learned the lesson of taming the tongue. We live among people who know nothing about loving their neighbor, or just don’t care. Sometimes we are the target of a firestorm of words that come unexpectedly and try to burn us down.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV).
Loving Our Neighbor Honors God
We honor God when we heed His command given through the book of James to tame our tongue. It is one of the many ways we can love our neighbor. With God’s help, we can restore relationships once broken by harsh words if we drink deeply of His Words of truth and grace.
However, I don’t believe God requires us to stay present in relationships with those who seek to harm us, who themselves refuse to heed God’s command to love our neighbor.
Closing Prayer on Loving Our Neighbor
Heavenly Father, help me to tame my tongue and love my neighbor. I pray for each person reading this article—whether they are someone who struggles to tame their own tongue or who are the scorched earth in the wake of another’s angry speech—that You would speak into their hearts the truth they need to hear today. Grant each reader wisdom, mercy, and faith, for healing of broken relationships where it is safe to do so.
I also pray, Lord, for the people of Maui as they deal with this terrible destruction. Give them space to grieve their losses and strength to rebuild with hope. In Jesus’s name, amen.