God’s Word for You
James 3:9-12 To bless and curse
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 6, 2020
9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not happen. 11 Does a spring gush with both fresh and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree yield olives, my brothers, or a grapevine figs? Nor can a salt spring provide fresh water.
James uses a unique title for God: “Lord and Father.” The more common “God and Father” is common to Paul (Ephesians 4:6), Peter (1 Peter 1:3) and John (Revelation 1:6), but this is the only occurrence of “the Lord and Father” in the Bible or in the earliest Church Fathers. There is one instance of Jesus using the same titles in reverse order, “I praise you, Father and Lord” in Matthew 11:25 (Luke 10:21).
Another important term here is James’ use of “we.” Like a good coach, James is eager for us to think of ourselves as a group, as a team. And if our teammates are making mistakes, we need to address it. If I’m one of the ones making mistakes, well, then, we need to address that, too.
Every morning I feed our cats a little wet cat food from a can before they get their dry food for the day. I’ve been told that a little canned food can be good for their tummies. But as I spoon out the food, I always think, I need to clean this spoon before my children or I use it for our breakfast cereal. Or if something in the fridge has spoiled: If I throw out the food, can I just put new food into that container without washing it first? But do we treat our mouths that way? James’ illustration of a spring is better: It can’t produce two kinds of water. Or an olive tree can’t produce grapes.
James comes close to making this a fellowship question. Could I consider myself to be in fellowship (doctrinal agreement) with someone who curses the same God that I bless? Wouldn’t I watch out for that person who does something “contrary to the teaching” I have learned, and keep away from him (Romans 16:20)? So what if I find that it’s my own tongue that does such things? I should cut it out. By that, I don’t mean my own tongue, but whatever my tongue was doing that ran contrary to God’s will.
If my language is foul, I need to think about what I say and pray for help. I need to plan to wean myself from the habit of cursing for dramatic effect. It may help to first plan substitute phrases that are not foul, such as, “That’s disappointing!” or “I wish I hadn’t done that to my thumb with this hammer!” The vocative “O!” will eventually make do, if one can keep from adding anything to it. There are whole websites dedicated to Shakespearean insults, and as a step toward scrubbing out a potty-mouth, they are worth reading. However, even “Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon” (Timon of Athens 4:3) does not live up to the Lord’s standard, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19).
Luther plunged deeply into the matter of cursing, especially among our children. “Children should be constantly urged and encouraged to honor God’s name and keep it constantly upon their lips in all circumstances and experiences, for true honor to God’s name consists in looking to it for all consolation and therefore calling upon it. Thus, as we have heard before, the heart by faith first gives God the honor due him and then the lips do so my confession. This is a blessed and useful habit, and very effective against the devil, who is ever around us, lying in wait to lure us into sin and shame, calamity and trouble. He hates to hear God’s name and cannot long remain when it is uttered and invoked from the heart. Many a terrible and shocking calamity would befall us if God did not preserve us through our calling on his name. I have tried it myself and learned by experience that often sudden, great calamity was averted and vanished in the very moment I called upon God. To defy the devil, I say, we should always keep the holy name on our lips so that he may not be able to injure us as he is eager to do” (Large Catechism, Second Commandment, par. 70-71).
Keep your tongue in check and help me to keep mine as well. This is the love of one Christian for another, to help each other along like good teammates urged forward by their coach, doing everything, absolutely everything, to the glory of God.
Lord, we your daughters and your sons
Ask only for your mercy
For sinful thoughts and sinful tongues
So far from Christian charity!
Oh cleanse us by your holy grace
And lead us to the spacious place
Where we may worship ever! (Proposed additional verse to Christian Worship 205)
Pastor Timothy Smith