If you’ve seen the movie “42” – the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball – you know there is a particular scene that is very hard to watch. Jackie, while playing the Philadelphia Phillies, is hit with a tidal wave of racial slurs hurled his way by the Phillies’ manager, Ben Chapman. As much as Jackie feels attacked and wants to respond, he knows that the racial climate in the 1940s will result in him being labeled the bad guy rather than the victim in this horrid situation.

Ben Chapman, like all of us, had a choice in how he used his tongue. He could have used it for good, but instead, he chose to release its “deadly poison … curs[ing] those who have been made in the image of God” (vv. 3:8-9). And because of that choice, Jackie Robinson – a child of God – was pushed near the breaking point. Yet, Jackie held his tongue. Yes, he did so because he knew the consequences of speaking up, but he also did so because of his faith in God.

As Christians, our words can build up and encourage and they can also destroy. We have greater weight to our words because of our faith. What I mean by that is that if we identify as Christian and use our words to tear down and destroy others, then we weaken our witness to others for Christ. Therefore, we are charged to watch our tongues and to speak words that unite rather than divide, that build up rather than destroy, and that bless others rather than curse them. Otherwise, we ourselves become defiled. As Jesus put it: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11).

History will judge our words. More importantly, God will judge our words. One day we will stand before our Lord, and we will have to answer for those words. Will we be known as spewers of poison or as ones who “plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (v. 3:18)?

In the case of Ben Chapman, his vitriol toward Jackie Robinson led to the end of his coaching career in the majors. As for Jackie Robinson – who, through all the hatred that was hurled his way, courageously held his tongue – his number 42 has been retired by every Major League team in baseball, and on April 15 of each season every player wears 42 in his honor.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Reflect on your tongue’s speech this week. Where has “blessing and cursing come pouring of the same mouth” (v. 3:10)? Where your tongue has torn down another, I encourage you to repent and be reconciled with that person.
  2. Often, our tongue’s speech is influenced by the experiences of our childhood. Reflect on the experience you had with parent(s), guardian(s), or other trusted adult(s) in your childhood, and identify the similarities and differences in your own way of expressing your words to others. Are you surprised by some of the similarities and differences? Why or why not? Now, pray and ask God to guide your tongue.