With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).
James tells us that there are two uses for our tongues. We can bless God and others with our words or we can curse God and people with our words. Of course there is a spectrum on which our words fall, but ultimately we are speaking to building others up and praise God or we are speaking to tear others down and curse God.
When this thought hit me I then made the application to our actions. What James teaching us in this passage has wider implications than just the words that come out of our mouths, for it also applies to how we live. With these bodies God has given us we can either sin and rebel against God or we can obey and worship God. While our actions fall on a spectrum of those two realities, in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.
In his book Surprised by Hope Bishop N. T. Wright devotes a whole chapter to “building for the kingdom.” Bishop Wright writes: “But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208). How do we build for the kingdom? I would argue that we build for the kingdom whenever we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.
Here is the point I want us to get today: just as our tongues can curse or praise God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom. Ultimately what sin is is rebellion against God, and it has a corrupting nature, not only in our lives, but in the world. Remember, this world was created good, and Satan, sin, and death have been corrupting it. We are to leave sin behind because to sin is to join Satan in his effort to corrupt the good nature of creation.
On the other hand, we are called to obedience and good works because it is then that we join God in His effort to redeem creation, which includes other people. Our good works are not our effort to make us right with God, rather they are our effort to partner with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth.
I think the implication of this is that the more are devote our lives to God’s Kingdom the less we will be involved with sin. The reason is because we come to understand that our sin is corrupting the good work that we are trying to do. Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).
Here we discover the key to good works: being led by the Spirit. The best way I know to allow the Spirit to lead our lives is be by students of God’s Word and to be involved in a church family. If we care about doing what God has called us to do, if we desire to be led by the Spirit, then we will make those things priorities in our lives. That way we can partner with God and work for His kingdom, rather than trying to work against God and His kingdom, because in the end that is what is futile.