Perhaps this is because we are all so surrounded by so many words...and so many of them lack depth and meaning. In addition to the 10,000-20,000 words that the average person expends on their own each day, we are inundated by the words of politicians, newscasts, podcasts, facebook friends, blogs, books, sermons, and advertisements. In the midst of all those words, it is easy to begin to wonder how any of them can stand out, how any of these many words can have any real power. Sometimes it seems like there are just a whole lot of people talking and not very many listening. And what good are words in a world where no one is listening?
All of this makes the words of James 3 seem like a bit of hyperbole. Surely something as simple as words could never be as destructive as the fires raging around Los Angeles right now. Surely James is exagerating to make a point. Stick and stones may break my bones but...
...but our kids learn that saying because they need a defense against the words that they know can indeed hurt so badly. Of course, its not just children who have suffered at the words of others. I think everyone has seen or personally experienced friendships, marriages, careers, reputations, families, or churches that have been ripped apart by nothing more than words. The simple words we use to label whole groups of people perpetuates our biases against them. Even the words we use to describe God, whether in our doctrines or our prayers, play an important role in whether or not others will come to know the God we serve.
As inexplicable as it sometimes seems amidst the vast sea of words that floods our world, somehow our words still have power, remarkable power, sometimes the power to give life or to destroy it. As Christians, there have been too many times where we have not chosen our words carefully enough. In our sermons and our prayers, in our evangelism and our prophetic proclamation, even in our conversations with one another, we have too often been wreckless with our speech. As the Church, we must always strive for our words to be a faithful witness to the Word.