The powerful song “This Is Me” is an unforgettable show tune featured in The Greatest Showman, the smash movie musical loosely based on the life of P. T. Barnum and his traveling circus. The lyrics, sung by characters in the film who’d suffered verbal taunts and abuse for failing to conform to societal norms, describe words as destructive bullets and knives that leave scars.
The song’s popularity points to how many people bear the invisible, but real, wounds caused by weaponized words.
James understood the potential danger of our words to cause destructive and long-lasting harm, calling the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). By using this surprisingly strong comparison, James emphasized the urgent need for believers to recognize the immense power of their words. Even more, he highlighted the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and then injuring people who are made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10).
The song “This Is Me” similarly challenges the truth of verbal attacks by insisting that we’re all glorious—a truth the Bible affirms. The Bible establishes the unique dignity and beauty of each human being, not because of outward appearance or anything we have done, but because we are each beautifully designed by God—His unique masterpieces (Psalm 139:14). And our words to each other and about each other have the power to reinforce that reassuring reality.
Whose forgiveness might you need to seek for using damaging words? How might you encourage someone today?
James’s strong warning on the danger of misusing our words comes in the context of a focus on the influence of teachers (3:1). Because our language is capable of causing great division and harm, especially when wielded by those with power and influence, James is emphasizing how essential humility is for true wisdom (vv. 2, 13). In that context, when he claims that “no human being can tame the tongue” (v. 8), he’s not excusing harmful language (as though since failing is inevitable we might as well give up), but once again emphasizing the need for humility.