How Does Your Communication Shape Your World?

Scripture: James 3:1-12

Have you ever hit ‘reply all’ when you intended to only hit ‘reply’ on your email? You didn’t intend everyone to read those words. Tempers flare. Relationships are bruised.

Have you ever posted something on social media you saw from another friend only to find out it was false? What you read confirmed your preexisting view of the world and so you passed it along. Misinformation multiplies. Truth and trust are trampled.

Our words are powerful.

I am biracial. This is something that is not always perceived by others. I have heard more offensive racial humor regarding Latinos, presumably because the tellers did not realize I am half Mexican-American. I have been insulted, angered, saddened, and shocked by some of the things people have said about me unaware.

If you ever want to see the dregs of humanity, then check out the comment section on any contentious online article. Rage, name calling, uninformed opinions, and character assassination spew freely. Speech we would not feel comfortable using with one of our pets gets directed at a fellow human being.

James’ Letter to Christ followers focuses on Jesus’ Royal Law connecting the love of God to the love of neighbor (James 2:8). Love of God and a living relationship with God never remain solely personal. All of humanity, created in the image of God, is worthy of words and language which honors both created beings and Creator. James connects our speech as both an insight into our inner lives and directly responsible for the way we shape our outer world.

A religious temptation is to reduce this speech to matters of profanity or incorrect teaching. This temptation keeps James’ admonitions about the power of the tongue comfortably on the grounds of moralistic language policing and scrupulous theological overseeing. Don’t curse and don’t blaspheme. This is a slogan our self-centered selves can live by easily enough. Yet that reduction of our words to this basic level lets most of our language off of the hook.

Words shape our perspectives and our understanding. Often we refer to whole groups of people from different places, cultures, lifestyles, beliefs or political affiliations  as if they were somehow less than human. They are “those people.” We come to talk about them, joke about them, and disdain them as idiots, monsters, and enemies. Perception of other groups of people, especially those we have little or no contact with, becomes formed by how we hear others speaking about them. Your words have power. Both what you say and what you left unsaid. Both what you say and how you say it. Both what you pass on and what stops with you.

What ways do your words shape your world?

What is the source of your negative, demeaning, or divisive communication?

How might your own self-talk become more freeing, truthful, and gracious?

How might your speech to others become more life-giving, humble, and honest?