Message to OK House of Representatives | Taming the Tongue
Inspirational Message and Prayer delivered before the Oklahoma House of Representatives April 12, 2018
By Rev. Joel W. Harder
The letter of James was written we believe by the great leader of the first-century church in Jerusalem and the half-brother of Jesus. In it, James describes deep spiritual maturity and spiritual strength.
The letter opens with a well-known passage, “consider it pure joy when you face trials of various kinds… for you know that the testing of faith produces endurance… or patience, if you have the King James” (James 1:2-3). The word in Greek is hypomonen – and it is a marvelous word. William Barclay defines hypomonen. We learn from Barclay that this is not the ability of a person to retreat into the sanctuary of God – though we can, for God is our refuge and strength.
It is not the protection of God that ensures our safety or deliverance – though we know that God fights our battles for us.
“Rather, this is the quality that enables a person to stand on their own two feet facing the storm. The testing of faith produces in us a transcendent fortitude of the soul – to have courage and not be afraid. And the strength to stand on our own two feet facing the storm.” (Paraphrase of William Barclay, 1976, pp. 144-145)
James goes on to say, “and let endurance, patience, or hypomonen have its full affect, so that you may be perfect, complete, and lacking nothing” (Jas. 1:4).
I believe with all my heart that in the journey of life and in faith, God is shaping us and molding us, pruning us and refining us. He is transforming us until the image of God in which all people are divinely created – but was fractured by sin – is finally and fully restored.
I believe with all my heart that this can and does happen for you, just as much when you are here, in this legislature, about the work of the people as it does when you are at home, in with your families or in your respective congregations and faith communities.
I suspect that for most of you in this body – on all sides of the issues before this body in the last few days – you have labored, you have strived, you have been tested, and perhaps you have discovered your limitations and learned to trust in others, and in God, a little more than you did before.
Be encouraged! God works in all things, redeems all things, and in all things a most important work of the reformation of the inner-self is in progress. It will result in a strength you never imagined you could have – for a time you could not have imagined when you will need it.
James goes on in this letter, building on what spiritual strength and maturity looks like; resisting any partiality or favoritism (Jas. 2:1-13), true religion which is visiting those most marginalized in the midst of their affliction and remaining unstained by this world (Jas. 1:27). Resisting greed (Jas. 5:1-6), hate and adultery (Jas. 4:4-5), and learning to look to others more than yourself (Jas. 2:15).
He makes an observation that is so subtle it can easily be missed. He writes: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, his is mature, able to also control the whole body” (Jas. 3:2).
James says show me a person who has tamed the tongue and I’ll show you a perfect person, mature in life and in faith, with perfect control over every aspect of their life. Perfection is therefore, not in what you do, accomplish, or create, but in what you say. More likely in what you don’t say.
I suspect there is not a person in this chamber for whom that simple phrase is not a deafening indictment. Oh, how I have failed to tame my tongue this week. And I am sorry.
The tongue is a restless evil, James writes, full of deadly poison (Jas. 3:8). Consider how a whole forest is set ablaze by such a small fire (Jas. 3:5).
In the Old Testament book of Job, when considering his situation and despair, Job begins to reason and to ask what have I done to really deserve this? Then Job considers who God is and he concludes – even if it were true, that I am totally blameless and righteous, the moment I open my mouth to speak in my own defense, my tongue would betray me and condemn me (Job 9:19-20).
Here is one final observation from James. We ought to consider with great sincerity and seriousness how we belittle, diminish, and even abuse the extraordinary power of our own words.
We read in James that with the tongue we worship and bless our Lord, and God the Father… and with it we also curse people who are made in God’s image (Jas. 3:9). He says this should not be. Then James confounds us and presents us with a logical impossibility.
He gives three illustrations of natural absurdities: A water saltwater spring that produces fresh water. A fig tree that produces olives. A grapevine that produces figs (Jas. 3:11-12).
Yet, in the face of impossibility, this is exactly what happens with the tongue. There can and will be redemption. There can and will be restoration. There can and will be humility, love, and forgiveness. There can and there will be the highest of purposes for our words; to bless the Lord and our God. To give praise to the One who is worthy of our praise.
Honorable ladies and gentlemen of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. My prayer each and every day – for every one of you – is that God will bless you and will strengthen you. That the redeemer of the world will transform your hearts first, then your minds, and that this will change the way you speak to one another, to traverse the areas of disagreement and opportunities for compromise and unity.
That the very air in this building would be changed. [To create] an environment and a culture marked by spiritual strength and maturity, of skillful legislators, speaking with conviction and compassion. Champions for your individual principles and a willingness to be convinced of another’s point of view.
To be a model of humility and integrity in governance for our state, to our nation and the world.
And I thank you for your sacrifice and dedication to do it. It is my honor and privilege to pray with you and for you. May God bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you.
Will you pray with me?
Our God and our Father: We approach You with the gratitude of those forgiven and restored… with the confidence of those who are witnesses to Your grace and goodness… with the boldness of the who ask first for the well-being of others before ourselves. I ask you to build up in these representatives, character, strength, kindness, and joy. Build in them the quality to stand on their own two feet to face the storms of this day and those to come. Give them rest now and time at home with their families. Meet them in every need. In the name of Jesus, I pray, Amen.
Joel W. Harder, Ed.D., is the Oklahoma State Minister with Capitol Commission. Capitol Commission exists to reach capitol communities for Christ by providing a pastoral presence and a ministry of prayer and the Word of God to legislators and their staff. Learn more and consider becoming a prayer or financial partner of the ministry by visiting CapitolCom.org/Oklahoma. Additionally, visit Pray1Tim2.org, Capitol Commission’s online prayer tool, and be equipped to pray for elected leaders in your state.