Anytime we pit our own righteousness against that of the “other”…
"Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling." (Proverbs 26:27 - but you'll want to read vs. 20-28)
We are offended at the very sight of these “other” who don’t act like us or think like us. These “other” whose history is not our own. So we take and give offense.
James 3:2 says “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle his whole body.” (ESV)
The ability to not offend someone by our words is evidence of spiritual maturity, with the side effect of being able to rein in the actions of the whole body. Do not be fooled. The negative power of our words doesn’t just spew poison at others, causing offense and pain. They affect our own actions and defile our own bodies. Our own tongue sets us on fire in a very bad way.
Left uncontrolled, the tongue is an unruly evil. “With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” Praise God Sunday morning. Run down the “other” Sunday evening. How can we not see a problem with that?
We honor God, yet we dishonor the man which was made in his image. In the battle of self vs. “other,” the other is dehumanized. We disregard that which makes the other most human, and most like us; their made-in-the-image-of-God-ness.
James 3:11 asks “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” The water imagery is very deliberate, for what bursts out of a spring is whatever is hidden in its very depths. James tells us the tongue no man can tame. It doesn’t mean James 3:2 is impossible, it means that un-tameable tongue requires the power of God.
Under our own power, we put chains on our tongues. We put a cap on the well. We stop up the fountain. We keep the words from coming out because it’s the Christian thing to do. But only God can actually heal us at the source, in that very deep place of bitterness or fear or anger or pain.
Jesus tells us a good tree isn’t going to bring forth corrupt fruit. Neither do sweet and juicy figs spring from a thicket of thorns. The fruit will come forth eventually, and we will be known by it. What do you want to be known by? I want the me which flows out of my heart to be a glory to God.
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and an evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) Why does Jesus call what is evil in our hearts our treasure? Because we hide it and protect it and carefully preserve it. It means so much to us, that righteous indignation. We don’t want to give it up. But it’s time we did. It’s time we let the treasure in our hearts be good so that what comes out of us does not give offense or defile even ourselves, but rather is like a spring, a wonderful and healing spring of living water.