February 11, 2018

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session


Danger! Danger! Tongue Ahead
James 3:1-12

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With evocative and memorable imagery, James 3 highlights the power of our words, both positively and negatively. Our words can create or destroy. They can build up or tear down. They can help or harm. The things we say, and how we say them, matter. This is especially true for anyone in a position of influence—including but not limited to the “teachers” James mentions.

For me, the most remarkable statement in this passage comes toward the end of it: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (v. 9). This statement is significant for at least three reasons.

First, it affirms the truth that all humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Sin has not altered this fact, nor is this a special status only for Christians who are intentionally being conformed to the image of God in Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). All humans, including those we consider “the least” or “our enemies,” have been made in God’s image.

Second, this statement affirms the truth that our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationships with others. How we treat other people is the real litmus test of the authenticity and depth of our relationship with God. This is emphasized in various ways throughout the New Testament, most bluntly in 1 John 4:20: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars” (NRSV). This truth goes back to Jesus, who linked love of God with love of neighbors, love of strangers, and even love of enemies (Matthew 22:36-40; 25:34-40; 5:43-48).

Third, this statement affirms that this second truth extends not just to our actions but also to our speech, both how we talk to other people and how we talk about them: gossiping about others, spreading unfounded rumors; slandering others, sowing known lies; harassing others, throwing cruel, demeaning words their way; bullying others, verbally intimidating them; anathematizing others, cursing them beyond the pale. How many times do we passive aggressively smile to people’s face but then cut them down behind their back?

James’s teaching here has particular relevance in our digital age, in the realm of social media. Safe behind our computers or smartphones, we say things to and about people that we would never say to their face, or never say off-line at all. Yet behind that icon on the screen is an actual eikon of God, a human person created in God’s very “image.” If we wouldn’t speak of God in that tone, with those words of “cursing,” how can we speak of another person in that way?

—Michael Pahl, michael.mmc@outlook.com

© 2018

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

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