The Power of Words – Spoken or Typed

By Matt Knuppel
MDiv 2020

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.  Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

James 3:1-12 (ESV)

If James were to write his Epistle today, I imagine he would say something along the lines of, “And the keyboard is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” 

In our age of social media and texting, we’ve arrived at a new frontier of danger for an unbridled tongue. What is said out loud can be limited to a single conversation, but what is said online becomes a permanent display for the whole world to read. We’ve watched as celebrities, politicians, and clergy have ruined their careers in less than 140 characters, something that could have been avoided if they had simply put down their mobile devices. 

Keeping one’s mouth (or phone) shut seems like such an easy solution, yet how often are we tempted to engage in a social media battle with “that” friend or follower?  What motivates us to share political articles which disparage those “others” we disagree with? And, in our anger, how often do we forget that on the other side of our screens, there are people with feelings and God-given value?

Social media can be a wonderful tool to express ideas and keep in touch with friends and family. However, James reminds us how the power of our words, whether spoken or typed, should be used at all times to praise and bring glory to God. This is especially true when our words may have an impact on those in different countries, time zones, or future generations. So before we hit “send,” we would do well to take a moment in reflection and ask ourselves: does this bless my Lord, or curse my neighbor?