Across the digital and personal landscape of conversations, the plumes of smoke rising from the attacks and fires started by careless, reckless, and violent words are only making matters worse. What exactly is the wise thing to say about the terrible tragedies unfolding in Gaza and Israel right now and the other tough issues our world is currently facing?
This is far from the first time terrible violence has happened in this part of the world. Two thousand of years ago, around 45 A.D., the embers of another uprising were being stoked as Jewish Zealots and other revolutionaries grew weary of living under crushing poverty and oppression by the Roman Empire.
Seeing how this rhetoric and spirit of violence was beginning to spread through the front doors and into the people of the Church, James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes a letter to address the danger of the terrorist tongue.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. -James 3:1-2
While many of us would not think of ourselves or those we follow online as teachers, the megaphone of social media puts us in a cultural congregation of sorts listening to voices without considering their wisdom or weight in our lives.
And while we all say things we might regret, James warns us that the small words we say and use can steer larger conversations and start unintended fires. (James 3:3-6)
Worse yet, James writes,
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. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. -James 3:7-10
Whether you are a pastor or leader in your church or just an attender, all the words we choose to say and post regarding the recent developments in Gaza and Israel, Andy Stanley and Northpoint Community Church’s stance on LGBTQIA+, to a wide variety of other pastor and church scandals matters.
The wisest man to ever live reminds us,
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. -Proverbs 18:21
James agrees with King Solomon’s fruitful wisdom and asks followers of Christ, Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. -James 3:11-12
What do your words sound and taste like?
Sweet and full of life? Or bitter and full of death?
So what can we say? And what can we do when faced with such madness overwhelming our feeds?
James asks and answers,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. -James 3:13-16
This wisdom would be proven right just a couple decades later following a violent Judean revolt (66-70 A.D.) that resulted in the devastation of Jerusalem and God’s people enslaved.
Words of violence, only led to more violence, death, and destruction.
Passionate and patriotic critics rejected the seeds of James’ Spirit-filled wisdom, probably seeing his position as weak, soft, or out of touch with their bold interpretation of God’s promise to protect His favorite people and nation.
So, what are some wise words to prayerfully consider, faithfully live by, and dutifully share in difficult times and about difficult issues?
While God’s Word cannot give us the precise words for every possible moment we might need in this life, His Spirit and Word absolutely will guide us in how to measure those words.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. -James 3:17-18
This is not just wisdom to live by, but a way forward with our words for times of confusion, chaos, and terror.