“Old buddy, that’s politics. After six o’clock, we can be friends, but before six, it’s politics,” Tip O’Neill’s response to Ronald Regan when the president called to smooth the waters after a day of political banter. The mood in politics was different in that era. The president would routinely invite members of Congress from both parties over after six to tell jokes. During the day they would argue ideas, but in the evening they would go out for a drink. There was truly a feeling of camaraderie among politicians that is non-existent in today’s political world.
Today there is a deep division in politics as people run to the extremes. The war of words between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi has risen to epic proportions, she calling him “morbidly obese,” and he responded, “she is a waste of time.” Political debate used to be about ideas, but it has denigrated into an attack of your opponent’s value as a human being. Might it be true that both parties legitimately desire to better the country? The difference is just different about what the right path entails? Let’s debate ideas on the floor and then get together afterward to make jokes and enjoy the company of one another.
James tells us in chapter 3, “The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.” This statement in James contradicts the children’s proverb, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In reality, the words we use have the power to cause ruin. Relationships end, wars begin, and churches split because of words. James wrote about this two thousand years ago. He said that if one can control their tongue, they are perfect and lack nothing.
Why do we tear each other down with the things we say? Could it be we say bad things because we are bad people? In 3:13, James tells us, “Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.” The wisdom to which James refers, begins with a proper posture towards Christ. Praises and curses come from the same lips because those lips speak from a divided heart. God is in the mix of a myriad of little gods in our lives. The words that come off the tongue testify to the nature of who we are inside.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote those words for his play “Cardinal Richelieu,” and the sentiment has rung true. We have the power to destroy or build up with our words. It would be a grave error to take the message of James and focus on using kinder phrases. While good-intentioned, it is doomed to fail because the person we are will eventually come out in what we say. Instead, change the person we are so that in those unguarded moments, Christ love rings loud. May Jesus truly be our One True Lord, and may no other gods be competing for attention.