September 19, 2021

On Training the Tongue

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Psalm 37:8
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Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is one of my Top Five books of all time. In it, an elderly Congregational minister is writing down for his young son all the thoughts on life and family history that he knows he won't be around to tell him in person when his son is old enough to understand. Here's one of his observations that I found particularly insightful: "I have always liked the phrase nursing a grudge because many people are tender of their resentments as of the thing nearest their hearts."
Anger is a God-given emotion, and when used correctly—such as when Jesus cleanses the Temple, or when he accuses those who manipulate others of being hypocrites—can accomplish some good. But more often than not, human anger is used in ways that do not promote righteousness. As Psalm 37 points out, it can easily lead to fretting, or nursing a grudge. A grudge is like a low-grade fever that slowly works to sap the life out of the one who holds it.
How much worse, then, is the damage our tongues can do when we give free range to our anger or our jealousy. Then the impact is more like what happens when we light a match in a drought-stricken forest. The destruction can be speedy, and the damage irreversible.

When the Apostle James writes of this, he does so in the context of wisdom. He seems to be saying that the more responsibility we have, the more damage our words can do if we do not use them wisely. So the message is twofold:
  • Those who teach or lead need to be aware of the impact of their words, and
  • Those who feel the call to be teachers or leaders must first train their tongues.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.
 James 3:5-6
Prayer after thinking about today's devotion:
Grant me a wisdom, Lord—a thoughtful mind, a loving heart, and a gentle tongue—that I may make known to others the grace I have received from your hand.
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After your own thanksgivings & petitions, close with the Lord's Prayer.
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