Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Do you cringe when you recall something you said, or how you said it? I do.  

What can we do about it?

The tongue as our representative

The tongue is the ambassador of the heart. So wrote John Lyly, a 16th Century English author. What he means is not only that our tongues are connected to our hearts, but that our tongues are official representatives of our hearts.  

The tongue is connected to the heart. The connection is not anatomical – but it is no less real. I’ve come across no fewer than 17 biblical texts that connect the heart and the tongue – and that doesn’t include those verses that link the heart with language such as ‘lips’, ‘mouth’, ‘words’, and ‘speech’. Jesus confirms this connection between heart and tongue: 

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:34b-37)   

Our tongues are official representatives of our hearts. Although ‘heart’ is not used here in an anatomical sense, it is an easy transition to use the word ‘heart’ to represent a person’s “entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements” (Vine's Expository Dictionary). The tongue speaks as it is energized and informed by the ‘heart’

Truly the tongue is the ambassador of the heart.  

Two types of wisdom 

In the previous post, we touched briefly on wisdom and its contribution to wholeness. 

There are two types of wisdom. They have different origins, characteristics, and consequences. 

We learn of one type of wisdom in James 3:14-16. That wisdom does not lead to wholeness – it results in dysfunction, fragmentation, and brokenness. Here’s what James tells us: 

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

The other type of wisdom does lead to wholeness (3:17):

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

As to its origins, this wisdom is “from above” rather than “not … from above … earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”  Its characteristics are “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” rather than bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting, and false to the truth. Its consequences are “righteousness sown in peace” rather than “disorder and every vile practice.” 

Did you notice that it is “first pure”? If it was first peaceable it would not get around to being pure. It is uncompromising in purity – and yet it produces such wonderful fruit. 

Reflection: Take a moment to ask yourself which of these two types of wisdom energizes and informs how you speak? What are often the characteristics and consequences of your words? Now ask yourself which of these two wisdoms you desire to energize and inform how you speak? 

What is this “wisdom from above”? 

There is a difference between the Greek and Hebrew conceptions of wisdom. The Greek concept is probably closest to our modern and Western sense of wisdom: “philosophical theory or rhetorical sophistry,” but this is not how James understands wisdom. Bruce Waltke, in his commentary on the book of Proverbs, writes:

James writes from the perspective of the Hebrew mind – a mind on the same wavelength as the book of Proverbs; a mind that views wisdom as “mastery over experience through the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state of knowing existentially the deed-destiny nexus – that is, to act on moral-spiritual knowledge out of its internalization (Proverbs 1:2; 2:1-5), thereby enabling its possessor to cope with enigma and adversity, to tear down strongholds, and thus to promote the life of an individual and/or a community.

That’s quite a mouthful, but it means that the “wisdom from above” is not some mere abstraction of thinking; it is the very stuff of understanding life and navigating it with skill. 

Let me take it another step. 

Do the characteristics of the “wisdom from above” resonate with your understanding of the fruit of the Spirit? That fruit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  

Peter Davids writes that “the function of wisdom in James is parallel to that of the Spirit in much of the rest of the New Testament.” We may feel that we are over-reading the text when we agree with this statement, but there is something to it.

Craig Blomberg moderates this a bit when he states: 

If James does not fully equate Wisdom with the Spirit, he nevertheless appears to understand them in similar ways and probably would have agreed that the Spirit is the preeminent (and perhaps exclusive) dispenser of the Father’s wisdom for Christian living. 

My conclusion is that the “wisdom from above” has definite connections with the Spirit of God and his fruit!  

A second question to ask 

Two questions were deferred in the last blogWhat is this wisdom? And, how do we tap into it?  

To some extent, the first question has been answered. Now, how do we tap into this wisdom from above? Here’s my proposal for action.  

First, acknowledge that you are responsible for what you say.

Don’t offer excuses, or blame someone or something else. James says, “we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (3:2). We are able to bridle our tongues; we are able to control what we say. 

Second, the way to control what we say is not by governing our tongues, but by going deeper. We need to identify what energizes and informs our tongues. As mentioned, our tongues are the ambassadors of our hearts, and James tells us that what we say is directed by one of two ‘wisdoms’ – a wisdom from that is “from above” or that is “not … from above” (3:15-16). There is no third option. 

Third, test the ‘wisdom’ operating in your words by assessing the nature of what you’re saying, and how you’re saying it. The reflection (above) is intended to direct you to this issue. 

The wisdom that is not from above is motivated and characterized by jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and every vile practice. 

By contrast, “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (3:17). It produces righteousness and peace in both your actions and your words. 

Fourth, intentionally choose the wisdom from above. Do you desire to embrace God’s wisdom? The way forward is to ask for his wisdom in the same way as the filling of his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). How can we do this?

My practice is to first invite my Lord to examine every nook and cranny of my life in the words of Psalm 139:23-24: 

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous [or, displeasing] way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! 

As “things bubble to the top” this is a call to confession – agreeing with God about my actions, words, or thoughts. I incorporate this confession with the words of 1 John 1:9 – something like: “Lord, I agree that my attitude/words/actions are wrong (be specific with Him). I thank you that you are faithful and just to forgive me and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.”  

Next is embracing the invitation to join with God: “Father, I yearn to be filled with your Spirit [or, to embrace your wisdom]. Energize and inform my heart so that I speak your words in the way you want them spoken.”  

This attitude of heart is the way forward – it is the wisdom the moves us toward wholeness. 

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