“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 the whole body.” (James 3:2)
How’s that? It goes without saying that “in many things we offend all”. Seriously, we don’t know how we come across. Who knows how many people I’ve offended today? And I’ve been offended too—most of which were slights to slight to even notice much less mention. And then the question of motive comes into play. But stay with me here. Imagine, if you will, a complex math problem, something that takes up the whole of the white board (I’m pontificating) and that includes dozens, if not hundreds of characters and symbols that are so much Greek. Or, better yet, an intricate and beautiful machine whose moving parts can only be glimpsed as they function deep in the body of the thing, surrounded by a metal lattice of hardware and scaffolding. Layers and levels of important pieces that move independent of one another (and us). And before we go any further, I appreciate James’ (“the Lord’s brother” Galatians 1:19) brief mention of the facts. Namely that we are full of mistakes and blind spots. He then puts his finger on the one thing that—once locked in place where it belongs—will keep the whole thing running smoothly.
Now take one piece out and look at it. The machinery will stop (and the equation will break down), but don’t worry.
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.” (James 3:3)
Whenever we relate to others, the interaction can be like two planets in one another’s orbits. The thing about this analogy, however, is that I have no way to relate it to what James is saying. Nothing about one planet coming into contact with another (disastrous) includes any small “off switch” that would keep the inevitable from being just that: a widescale wreck of epic proportions. Come to think of it, it sounds a lot like what James says regarding the numerous offenses each and every one of us is guilty of, every day. Best then, to stick with an analogy that includes that aforementioned “off switch”. He continues:
“Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned out with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:4)
One spark, one piece, one word is all it takes to do something, to start something huge. A high-powered rifle will not fire without the simple firing pin. The weapon may be loaded, but it’s not going to go off. Older cars (not so much in the later models) require a spark plug in order to turn the engine. The machinery in each case is useless without that small part. And while James obviously talks about keeping one’s mouth shut so as to stave off the “strife of tongues” (see Psalm 31:20), the same could also be said for an elaborate scheme of forgiveness, faith, joy and love.
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 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. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:16-18)
Don’t forget to put that piece back in. You never know what a kind word, a personable gesture, a thoughtful glance, might do.