“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 and play games. During the day, they would argue ideas, but they would go out for a drink in the evening when the arguing had ceased. There was indeed 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 rose 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 our words? We say the things we say because, deep down, that is how we really feel. In 3:4, James tells us, “Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder.” The tongue has the power to heal or destroy, but it is the heart that chooses the direction. The words that come off the tongue testify to the nature of who we are inside. We are being honest when we say things in those unguarded moments. In the heat of the moment the content of our character is revealed.
“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 the words we use. It would be a grave error to take this message and focus our attention on using kinder words. 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’s love rings loud in our dialog. When we have humbled ourselves before the cross, our heart will be changed, and the words we use will reflect his love.