Talking to Immortals
With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.
When James mentions cursing in this passage, he’s not talking about profanity or calling down from heaven a curse on someone. This is literally a reference to slander, gossip, and accusation against other believers.
You might say, “Well, that’s not so bad . . . at least we’re not saying bad things about God.” But James anticipates this loophole and clarifies his rebuke a step further: he points out the contradiction between blessing God on the one hand and cursing someone made in God’s image on the other.
People have been made in the likeness of their Creator and that sets us all apart from the rest of creation. We are the image-bearers of God. Mankind isn’t just a more slightly evolved animal. We have conscience and self-awareness, with moral reasoning, along with creative ability to shape the world around us through art, music, science, philosophy, and mathematics. An animal never admires a sunset and ponders in spirit the issues of creation.
James reminds us especially that when we offend other believers, God Himself is offended.
Think of it this way: imagine being invited to someone’s home for dinner. While you’re there you notice a picture hanging on the wall and you whisper to your wife, “I hope he didn’t pay a fortune for that painting; it’s horrible!” Then you discover the artist is your host—and he overheard you! Would you then say, “Look, don’t take it personally . . . I’m not criticizing you; I’m only criticizing your work!”
You can’t separate the two, can you? To belittle the art is to belittle the artist. God is as interested in what we say to each other as He is in what we say to Him.
One author illustrates the radical change that should come from understanding the value of God’s highest order of creation, the human being. In his book The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis writes:
Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting believer you talk to will one day be a creature which, if you saw [him] now, you could be strongly tempted to worship [him]. It is in light of this that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
After James spends an entire chapter dealing with our speech, he cuts to the heart of the matter by revealing why we really struggle so much with our speech. Our problem isn’t our mouths . . . it’s our minds. So the solution isn’t to speak better; the solution is to think better!
The reason we criticize and slander and castigate people is because we’re not seeing them the way God sees them. Our thinking is wrong.
So, who are you struggling to love and think kindly of today? Heed James’ words . . . treat them as an immortal creation of Christ.
Have you hurt someone with your words recently? Confess it to God and then confess it to that person. You’ll be happy you did!
Read Paul’s convicting words regarding your speech in Ephesians 4:25–32
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