3 And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. 4 Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination directs. 5 So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. 6 And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence—and is set on fire by hell.
7 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. 8 But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. 11 A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water. James 3:3-12 (NET)
James is a book filled with practical moral advice, and I believe that most of what the book teaches can be extrapolated from James 3:9, where James tells us that we use the same tongue to praise God and to curse those who are made in God’s image. Images are important; if anybody doubts the importance of images, then consider our flag, a powerful symbol of our nation.
On one hand, the flag is just a bit of patterned cloth. Nothing that I do to the cloth has any impact on the nation it represents, but I could, by mistreating the flag, invoke the anger of my neighbors. We treat the flag with reverence. We have ceremonies for displaying it, for storing it, and for retiring it. The flag is the image of our nation. I cannot praise the nation and curse the flag. Whatever I say against the flag is understood as a statement against the nation. Images are powerful.
Consider all this in light of what James is saying. When we worship God while oppressing human beings created in the very image of God, it is no different. John also witnesses to this truth: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar” (1 John 4:20). Images are important, and how we treat God’s image is a direct reflection of our relationship with God.
Prayer suggestion: God, please help me to see your image more clearly reflected in the face of my neighbor.
Published in Fall 2018 edition of Fruit of the Vine