But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. (James 3:14)
I grew up in New England but have lived much longer in the South than I have in the North. Whether I travel North to visit family, or I am in my beloved South amongst friends, my accent often becomes a topic of discussion. Up North they say I sound like a Southerner. Down South, they say I sound like a Yankee. A few say that I don’t have a dominant accent at all. It has taken years of effort to tame my New England brogue. At any rate, a person’s accent can tell you a little bit about where they’re from.
A person’s words can tell you where their heart is.
It is not by mistake that James’ discussion about the characteristics of godly wisdom is also embedded in his discussion of the tongue. What a person says – or doesn’t say – says a lot about his character for “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart” (Matthew 5:18). In Proverbs, there are many passages about the silence of wisdom. A wise person listens much more than he speaks. On those occasions where Proverbs mentions the words of the wise it is often paired with how their words are few and only come out after careful consideration. The wise are known not for the quantity of their words, but for the quality of them.
The difference between the wise person and the fool is a matter of submission and control. James points this out in the illustrations he uses. Man can put bits in the mouths of horses and rudders on ships to control things many times stronger and larger than himself, but he cannot control his own tongue. Why? Because it’s an impossible task.
So, then how do the wise do it? Where does that grace come from?
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
Godly wisdom can only come from submission to God. God resists the proud but He gives grace to the humble. The telltale mark of someone who is submitted to God’s grace is his words and his actions:
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation [manner of life] his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
The fruits of godly wisdom are the exact opposite of what naturally comes out of our hearts.
What did the people say to Peter on the night he denied Christ? “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth [reveals, exposes] thee” (Mattew 26:73b). They were making reference to Peter’s accent. He sounded like someone from the region where Jesus lived, but Peter’s accent was not his problem. How he reacted was his problem:
“Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man” (Matthew 26:74a). His cursing and swearing weren’t really the issue either. Those were just symptoms of his deeper problem: his lack of submission to the Lord.
If I really want to know if I am submitted to God, all I have to do is pay attention to my actions and what comes out of my mouth. Because my words will reveal my heart.