November 22 (Daily reading: James) This commentary is adapted from my book, “We Love Because God First Loved Us,” pages 137-139.
James had a lot to say about the inappropriate use of the tongue. “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (3:8). There is a saying: “Always remember to put brain into gear before engaging mouth.” My mother used to say, “If you do not have anything good to say, say nothing at all!” Solomon wrote, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23). Someone compared words to bullets: once they leave the mouth or the gun, there is no control over the results.
James wrote two reciprocal principles on this subject. Both express the judgment that has already taken place in the heart. First, he wrote: “Do not speak against one another” (4:11). Speaking against someone whom God has created assumes God’s role as their judge. This can include speaking harshly, mocking someone, passing on stories that do harm, and accusing someone falsely. It is the opposite of the positive principle of building up one another. A spirit of criticism in the church can destroy peace and fellowship.
James also wrote: “Do not complain against one another” (5:9). Complaining is publicly expressing negative feelings about someone. It is the opposite of the positive principle of being patient with one another. If God has permitted someone to be an irritant in your life to teach you, you can learn God’s lesson and receive His blessing. Or you can complain about the irritant and fail to receive the message that God has prepared for you. James reminded us that even in a situation as extreme as Job’s, rather than complain we can say, “the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11).
– Al Gary