I once told my sister to go to Hell. We were on vacation in Florida. She was being a ten-year old girl--obnoxious and presumptuous. I was being her older brother--impatient and annoyed. She made me mad; I cursed.
I should have told her to go to the beach, but I said Hell. I was sorry. Sometimes I wonder if my imprecation caused my sister to fall from grace. Words have power. They are, James wrote, set on fire by the power of Hell (3:6).
Perhaps James knew this first hand. We know he thought Jesus a lunatic. When the crowds accused his older brother of
being in league with Satan, James stood outside the door calling Jesus insane. "Come home, you fool. You're making us all look bad" (Mark 3:20-35). When Jesus refused, James may have added, "Go hang on a tree." Eventually He did (Gal. 3:13).
Jesus, too, knew the power of words: that they spill from our heart (Matthew 12:34). He warned we must give account for every careless word we utter (Matt. 10:36). Yeses and Nos matter (Matthew 5:33-37). And whoever calls his brother Fool damns himself (Matthew 5:22-26).
After his conversion, James echoed His brother's teaching: Words matter. Listening trumps speaking (James 1:19-21). Cursing, moaning, fussing and clawing only fuels our fights and add to our fury (James 4:1-3). Treatment for an angry soul is silence. Or, if not silence, pause, restraint, and a run to the border for a Chili Cheese Burrito.
On the positive end, words have the power to elevate, encourage, and speak life into defeated souls. Phrases like "Well done"; "I love you, man"; and "I'm really proud of you," stick with people. And whenever we proclaim, "Jesus is Lord," we reshape the world.
The power of life and death rolls off the tongue. No wonder Jesus asked us to take words seriously. No wonder James repeated the meme.