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“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” – James 3:9

In describing the uncontrolled, evil nature of our tongues—our words and how we use them—James now points to two contrary ways we use our tongues.

First, we can use our words to bless or praise our Lord and Father. After James’s description of evil, untamable, unstable tongues up to this point, it’s shocking to imagine such a person use their words to bless God. Perhaps we’ve been imagining that James has been describing non-religious people, or bad people. Or as we’d like to think, he’s describing “other” people—not us, and not Christians. But, no, James’s is describing the tongues of the human worshipers of the one true God. He is describing a weakness even in Christians. That makes his next example all the more convicting.

We also use our words to curse people. The word “curse” here is katarōmetha in the Greek, and this term is very specific. It does not refer to the use of coarse or “dirty” language, though that’s part of how we can misuse our tongues. In the classic sense, to “curse” another person is to condemn them. It is to wish them to be cut off from blessing. It can even mean a prayer to send them to hell. More generally, this type of “cursing” is a desire for evil to come into someone’s life. In the sense James means it here, we can curse someone with a variety of words, R-rated or not.

It is such a common human thing to “curse” another person that we tend to dismiss it as not that big of a deal. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a common English proverb. And yet, James explains why abusive speech is such a big deal: We are cursing a being made in the image of God!

This is the second time in this chapter James has looked back to our creation by God, described in Genesis 1 (James 3:7). His arguments about how we use our words are rooted in the very foundations of creation itself. His main point is this: We use our words to bless our Creator and then to curse His creation. As he’ll explain in the next verses, that doesn’t make sense. It reveals the untamable, evil nature of our tongues.

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