Responsibility for Words

James 3:1-12, Lectionary

Rev. Christopher Harbin

06 September 2015

We live in a society in which one's word has much less importance than it did a couple of generations back. One's word was considered one's bond not long ago, yet it seems permissible of late to throw out words with little to no consideration of their validity, much less to consider ourselves in any way responsible for the words we speak and how they impact others. We find this true in our commercial lives, in politics, and even in religious circles. We are too comfortable with the intent to deceive, as long as our words are not outright lies. Often enough, even that is not a consideration we care to make. We care much more about image, popularity, position, status, or power than about the import, impact, or reality behind our words. Our irresponsibility comes at a high price, however, even when we choose to ignore it.

James was concerned with actions. He was concerned with words, and as any Jew of his day, he considered that actions and words were part of the same continuum of reality. The ancient Hebrews considered that words took on a life of their own once pronounced and could never be retrieved. It was tied to the pictures of the Word of Yahweh coming to the prophets. This sort of concept was behind the prologue to the Gospel of John, who wrote of the Word becoming flesh. The spoken word had substance, being, a life of its own. If faith for James was closely tied to one's actions, those actions included the words one spoke and how those same words impacted others.

In today's passage, James first addresses those who would teach others as having an increased responsibility for their words. The words of a teacher are designed to have more life than many other words. The whole point of teaching is to place the words of one into the lives of others to impact and transform thought and action. We teach in order to shape lives, and our words as teachers or preachers by design have the purpose of shaping, molding, and transforming the world in which we live, the world which will be here long after we are gone. With this greater degree of influence, comes a greater degree of responsibility for what we do with that influence. While it is true that individuals are responsible for their thoughts and actions, it is also true that those who influence others share in responsibility for what comes of that influence....

...for the full text of this sermon, see Responsibility for Words, at

—©2015 Chri­stopher B. Harbin

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