Tough expectations or high standards?

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2018

by Charles Qualls

We’ve probably all heard someone say, “Hey, I oughta wash your mouth out with soap for saying that.”  That was the threat where I came from when someone said a bad word. It was a good thing for my parents and others to teach me what were bad words.

Some of the funniest moments in movies or TV shows have been when a character responded to another’s harsh words by saying, “Is that the same mouth you kiss your Mama with?” 

But, it’s not just bad words that need attention. We know this.

There are good words and there are bad words, and some that are just in-between. The more versatile among them can go either way, I guess.

I wish more of us had people teaching us how to string good words together when we were kids. We might be better about speaking responsibly and lovingly. We might find ourselves speaking beautifully and supportively these days, as adults, if we’d had as much or more intent placed on speaking well as we did on not saying the bad words. 

Seems like these days we could use all the good words we can get. We are a contentious culture. We’ve gotten sloppy in our civility under the lazy guise of free speech. 

Controlling our mouths can be a real issue. Always has been. That’s why James bothered to speak to this in chapter 3:1-12. Why, then, can our mouths hold so much potential while also having the danger of doing so much damage?

The mouth has such tremendous power. We should celebrate that, in some ways I suppose. The words that are spoken for good, reach incalculable audiences. They can also save a life when the audience only consists of one. Our words can soothe the hurt of life’s cruelty. We can speak wisdom into someone’s most vulnerable moment. With our words we can urge on the timid or the under-confident with a vote of encouragement.

We can lend safety and security to the frightened, and give support just as a loved one needs to hear a positive word. Our words can accompany the grieving simply by speaking of our love and empathy, or just of our presence. 

“I’m here” may be all your heart-broken friend needs to hear. 

Everything has two sides, though, doesn’t it.    

I have come to realize that we inflict far more hurt, and far more damage, on each other with our mouths than humankind has ever thought about by using weapons of war.

Doesn’t it strike you that this section begins as it does? James says, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Not many of you should become teachers.” Why teachers? Who all did he really mean?

In God’s kingdom, mature believers come to understand that all Christians are actually on display. All we who claim this faith for our lives are teachers of one another. All we who claim membership in a church are watched by others in the Franklin community and they evaluate our faith, in some large part, by how every one of us speaks, lives and acts.

More to the point, some of them also evaluate God by how we speak, live and act. James would say they’re right to do so. 

Words get revisited years and even decades later. Words bring about such unimaginable goodness when they are windows to Godly action. Good words are celebrated and take on a life of their own.

But, words also tear down and confuse. They perpetuate hate and injustice. Words slung about carelessly coalesce ill when gathered back up by hearers who only needed a slight prompting to do the wrong things. 

Words taken from others out of context and dropped into the email, the letter or conversation we’ve shaped for our own desires? Those stolen words become evil. 

Words numb us to the wrong around us when we don’t hold them accountable. Words build around us a capacity to tolerate what we know doesn’t add up and shouldn’t be. 

Words pass on behaviors and mindsets that we know, deep down in who we are, the next generation doesn’t need to perpetuate. 

If you think these high standards or tough expectations, whichever they are, couldn’t get any worse just remember one last thing. Words not used when someone needs to speak up may be just as harmful as bad words.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.