“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” —James 3:9
Oratory can be a very dynamic tool. The voice of the speaker conveys the mood, emotion and state of their heart. Throughout history, there have been occasions where an inspiring oratory has changed the world more than military might. A powerful speech gives people vision, motivation and certainly gives confidence to armies. There is almost always someone behind the army with a meaningful oratory that penetrates the heart and spurs them into action.
Hitler was a brilliant orator, but a tragic reflection of what James speaks of when he says, “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” (3:6). It was Hitler’s persuasive ability, not his ideology, that influenced the people of Germany. When Winston Churchill was made an honorary citizen of the United States in 1963, John Kennedy said he had mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech sparked a civil rights movement that transformed race relations in America. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, comprised of only 272 “off-the-cuff” words, became the most enduring memory and benchmark of American history. He spoke of democracy as being a government of the people by the people for the people, which has since become the standard definition for democracy worldwide.
This is the strength of words James talks about. He gives three analogies to the power and impact our tongues can make. He first likens it to a bit in a horse’s mouth. With the slightest tugs the whole animal can be turned around. He then speaks of a small rudder on a ship, which has the capacity to steer a large ship wherever the operator wishes it to go. Lastly, he says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (3:5). These three illustrations are of small devices that have enormous power. It is the same with the tongue. By the words we say, we can bring joy or sadness, build people up or tear them down, make or break friendships, strengthen marriages or destroy them.
One of the smallest parts of our anatomy can wield incredible power and it derives from the disposition of our hearts. In Leviticus 19:2, God says, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” Holiness and speech go hand in hand as do honesty and honour. Our speech reveals our hearts, and when speaking kindly with honesty and honour, we uphold the holiness of God.
Prayer: Dear Lord, keep me with a disposition of heart derived from You so that I may speak kindly and with honour and honesty at all times. Thank You, Lord.