With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9).
Recently the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that small knives will be allowed on airplanes beginning April 25th.
There are some specific criteria as to what constitutes a ‘small’ knife. Acceptable knives will have a blade no longer than 2.36 inches and less than 1 inch wide. The blade must be retractable and cannot lock into place. Razorblades and box cutters are still banned.
The announcement has not been celebrated by many insiders in the airline industry. Notably, Delta CEO Richard Anderson has criticized the decision, observing that the changed rule will present added risks while doing little to impact customer experience at airport security check points. The Flight Attendants Union Coalition is actively working to reverse the TSA’s decision.
When does a small knife become a weapon? Is it possible to regard a sharp blade as harmless or conclude that it presents no appreciable risk to staff and passengers? These are some questions behind the debate. The TSA seems willing to recognize that a person may have a blade, but the blade itself is not a threat. Given certain parameters, it will not be regarded as a weapon.
As we think about God’s prohibition against bearing false witness, some similar questions can be asked of the human tongue and the words it forms. The human tongue is about 4 inches long. The average weight is somewhere between 60-70 grams. It is not a big muscle, but it is very strong – and capable of doing great harm. As the apostle James wrote, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire” (James 3:5).
Of course – like a small knife – the tongue need not always be regarded as dangerous. James acknowledges that with our tongue we bless our Lord and Father. The tongue makes it possible for us to give praise to God. And yet, with that same tongue we can curse another person made in God’s image. When does the tongue become a weapon? How is it that we bless with one sentence and then curse someone else in the next?
In our reflections on the commandment against bearing false witness we have included a broad variety of falsehoods. There are plenty of ways that we use words and language to cloud the truth. But let’s remember that the commandment speaks specifically of what we do with words that are aimed at another person. The act of false witness that God addresses is a false witness “against a neighbor” - words used as weapons to harm someone else.
When does the tongue become a weapon? That depends on what you do with it and how you use it.
James reminds us that we have the capacity to bless and to curse. Perhaps the prohibition against bearing false witness needs to be balanced with a word of positive instruction. Use your tongue to bless others. Let your words and your speech be a means by which God’s grace is poured into someone’s life. When you bless the person made in God’s image, God is glorified as well.
Be specific and intentional about doing this today. Whom will you bless with your words and how will you do so?
Gracious God, use my words today as a means of blessing someone around me. Move my heart and mouth to praise you and let every word I speak be an expression of that praise. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.