James 1:19-21 (AD 48)
[This and the next devotional are out of synch – for some reason I skipped James 1:19-27 as I went through the letter, so I’m returning only now to those verses.]
Before my time, it was common for parents to literally wash their children’s mouths out with soap as punishment for swearing or crude talk. I think if it was done to me, I would have regarded it more as a dare than a deterrent.
James didn’t say parents should do that, but here as in chapter 3, he was clear that the way we speak is enormously significant. His instruction echoed the words of Jesus and Paul:
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:22)
“In your anger do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Being quick to speak is a short-cut to sinful anger. Think about what people say, think about what the Bible says, learn, and then respond. Too often we allow our emotions to not merely guide some of our thoughts, but dictate our words and actions. That’s not being authentic or natural, it’s just being self-absorbed and intemperate. Our initial reaction to something is not automatically good – we often need time to fight the temptation to anger or defensiveness before we can respond in a way that’s helpful, but we are too afraid of ‘losing’ the conversation, or being made to look bad, so we respond quickly.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in our homes, with our families. Maybe we have spent a day dealing with demanding clients, entitled people under us, and overbearing people over us. But in all those twenty conversations we were careful to be measured in our tone, knowing how utterly counter-productive it would be to react by instinct or give vent to exactly what we think .
Then we go home to the one to whom we once said, ‘I love you because I can be myself around you’, and we take off all those filters. Some of the filters need to come off, like the ‘I mustn’t criticise you’ filter, or the ‘I’ll tell you I don’t mind even though I really do’ filter. But as we take those off, we also tend to remove the ‘I’ll respond gently to your harsh words’, and ‘I’ll assume the best of you though I suspect the worst’ filters. Having been model professionals all day, we may become prickly and irascible to the people who matter most.
It’s not about having to perform or be fake to our family, it’s about treating them with love. And when we ‘relax’ into harsh, ill-tempered or unkind talk in the home, we’re effectively saying we love our job more than our home, and our clients more than our family.
To that end, it’s important that we “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you” (v.21). As we allow God’s truth and character to grow in us, our desire to respond in love becomes more important than indulging our instincts.
So be real with those you love, but let the real you be love.