When our oldest was about 10 months old, I slipped while carrying her down stairs, landing on her tiny leg. She cried for a bit, but cheered up with a bath and a little ice cream. However, if she put any weight on her leg, she screamed in pain. We rushed her off to the emergency room where they performed x-rays on her tiny body.
They found nothing wrong.
We drove back home and put her to bed, but the next morning, she still wailed any time she put weight on her leg. Obviously, something WAS wrong. That morning, we took her to her pediatrician, who ordered more x-rays, finding a tiny dent-like fracture. The orthopedist put her in a cast for three weeks. While it may have delayed her walking for a bit, she was as good as new at the end of her three weeks.
Our daughter obviously had an injury. We could have treated the pain with Tylenol, but that would have caused a long-term problems with an untreated fracture. Instead, we kept searching until we found the cause of her pain. When we found the cause, we were able to treat it.
Isn’t this just like our tongue problems? We know that our angry words are a problem, but we don’t always understand the cause. We keep asking God for help, but we only address the symptoms. Our tongues are not the cause of our harsh words. Our tongues are simply the means by which our evil hearts are exposed.
In my Bible translation, James 3 is divided into two sections: “Taming the Tongue” and “Wisdom from Above”. As I was reading through the first part, I remembered that these section dividers were added by the translators, not the original writers. Based on these headings, it seems that James completely drops the subject of the tongue to talk about wisdom. However, the section on wisdom is actually a continuation of the tongue section.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.James 3:13-18 ESV
Twice, James identifies jealousy and selfish ambition as the root of “disorder and every vile practice”. Jealousy and selfishness destroy the work God wants to do in us and through us. They prevent us from nurturing our relationships. They lead to chaos, hurt, and eventually, the destruction of our lives. If we want to use our mouths for only kindness and wisdom, we must deal with the jealousy and selfish ambition living in our hearts.
The sin of jealousy
Parents of two or more children see jealousy cause problems at least weekly! One sibling gets more time, attention, or whatever, and the other one punishes him/her with nasty remarks, sly jabs, or a even tantrum. Another one feels insecure about his standing with the parents so he acts out to demand attention.
Let’s get more personal. What about the times we get jealous of all the demands on our husband’s time? We might not even realize that we are punishing him with silence or disinterest. If your husband is in ministry of any kind, those demands might be his special calling from God. His response to that call doesn’t make him love you less. It just shows how much He loves God!
Or what about when we let jealousy invade our friendships? It’s easy to envy the woman who seems to have it all: money, talent, and beautiful children. But we don’t always see the struggles she faces each day. Or how her soul aches with insecurity and fear. In our jealousy, we may be tempted to lash out with gossip or give her the cold shoulder. Oh, jealousy is a cruel task master.
The sin of selfish ambition
This one hit me hard as I thought about all the times I have lost my temper. Each time, it has been because my agenda was thwarted. The kids disturbed my peace and quiet. They made me late by playing instead of getting dressed. They didn’t do what I asked them to do, leaving more work for me. Yes, there are times when my anger is truly justified, but much of it is purely selfish. I have held too tightly to my agenda at the expense of my children.
Because our schedule IS pretty tight, I have to plan our days carefully to make sure the important things get done. This is a good thing, but my trouble starts when I prioritize my schedule over God’s agenda. I cannot sacrifice kindness on the altar of efficiency, or else my harsh words will undo all the good I want to teach my children. I must focus on kindness and leave the results to God. And yes, that is more easily said than done!
The influence of the enemy
“This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” –James 3:15-16 ESV
These sins of our mouths go beyond our own selfishness; they are amplified by demonic influence. The enemy, who knows our every weakness, flings poison darts into our minds. He seeks to keep us chained to our sin-natures so that we are buried in the guilt of disobeying God over and over. When we are overcome with shame, we may give up in defeat, never fulfilling the destiny God has for our lives.
The good news is that the Holy Spirit who lives in us is greater than the power of satan. We do not have to live in defeat. Next week, we will see how repentance and submission to God can help us root out unkindness.
Sisters in Christ, we are more than conquerors through the power of Jesus’ name. Let’s humbly seek God’s face this week as we repent of our sins and submit to our Father’s agenda. Let’s commit our works to Him so that He can bring His plans to pass.