2We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:2-12, NIV)
The Daily DAVEotional
Growing up, there was almost nothing more exciting than checking the daily mail. This was before the internet and personal computers. We had no email, no social media, no cell phones. The only way to communicate with someone was either a personal phone call (using our rotary phones) or via old-fashioned snail mail.
Junk mail wasn’t as prevalent back then so when something came that had your name on it, there was excitement – just like Ralphie in this clip from A Christmas Story.
One day when I was in junior high, I checked the mail after school, and low and behold, there was a letter with my name on it.
There it was….a small white envelope with my name handwritten right in the center! There was no return address so I wasn’t sure who it was from.
Immediately I began to ponder in my mind what was inside and who it was from. I speculated that the letter could be from a secret admirer, a girl no doubt, who wanted to express her affection for me.
However, when I opened the envelope, it wasn’t what I expected. There was no note of affection or admiration from a secret admirer. In fact, there was no letter at all. It was just a 3×5 index card with the following Bible verse written on it:
6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
I was perplexed. What was the purpose of this note and why was it sent to me? And more importantly, WHO would send me a Bible verse on an index card? Why this particular verse?
I never did find out who sent me that card and to be honest, I didn’t reflect much on the meaning of the verse or what the anonymous sender was trying to say to me.
Growing up, I was always extremely small for my age. As a result, I was an easy target for bullying and intimidation. I quickly learned that in the school playground jungle, what one lacked in size and strength could be made up with words. I learned the art of using quick zingers and snappy comebacks to make fun of others and cut them down to size.
My verbal skills of sarcasm, put downs and quick wit became well-known, not only amongst my family and friends in my childhood years, but later with my co-workers and managers at work. I remember more than once a manager at the Target store I worked at in college telling me that I was a smart-a**.
What I think that anonymous note sender was trying to say, though I didn’t digest it until much later, is that I had a sharp tongue and my words could easily damage others. Of course I knew this intellectually. I had often been the recipient of teasing and verbal jabs. I wrote here in a previous blog post about how words have the power to heal or hurt.
In this passage, James is telling his audience that our tongues are an indication of our overall ability to control ourselves.
Our tongue may seem insignificant but it can have an enormous effect in how it is used. It can do tremendous damage. James notes three things about the tongue.
First, the tongue is small but it can do GREAT damage. Just as a small spark can result in a large fire, so even the smallest and seemingly innocuous of words spoken by our tongues can do enormous harm to others.
Secondly, James says that the tongue is evil and poisonous. When we use our tongue in the wrong way, we actually corrupt our entire body. This is because the tongue is the vehicle by which people share their thoughts. If their thoughts are evil, the tongue exposes the person to be corrupt and evil.
Thirdly, James points out that the tongue is inconsistent. It can be used for praising God on one hand and cursing those made in the image of God on the other hand.
James is noting that if we praise God on one hand and curse people made in the image of God in the next breath, there is a problem. Jesus taught that this inconsistency is the result of our evil heart.
Unfortunately, when we come to know Jesus, the evil in our heart is not completely eradicated. As a result, we may find ourselves still having trouble controlling our tongue. This is why James says that the tongue cannot be tamed.
So what are we to do? To gain control of our tongue we actually must yield control of our heart and will to the Holy Spirit who resides in us. It’s only by the power of God’s Spirit that we can experience transformation of our hearts resulting in a change in our behaviors.
For more information on how we can yield control of our lives to the Holy Spirit, see the following blog posts:
An Issue of Control – Romans 8
Are You Drunk on God’s Spirit – Ephesians 5
In what ways do you find yourself misusing your tongue (your words and language)?
Think of a time when you used your tongue (either spoken or written words) for good or when you were the recipient of someone else’s healing words? How did that feel? What did you experience?
Think of a time when you were harmed or hurt by the words of another (written or spoken)? What emotions did you feel?
What steps can you take to ensure that your tongue is used for godly purposes instead of for hurtful purposes?
Photo by Merch HÜSEY on Unsplash