The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21
The tongue is powerful (James 3:1-12). And those who love the tongue and eat its fruit are those who choose to live or die under its power, like those who live by the sword, by the law, or by faith. Prudent speech brings life, and wicked or excessive speech brings death. And now let’s turn to that first statement the tongue is powerful and for that we are going to turn to James 3:1-12.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or 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. Likewise, 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. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:1-12
One of the primary ways we demonstrate who we truly are is by our speech, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). In this broken world, sinful impulses remain in the Christian and, if allowed to run unchecked through the tongue, such sinful talk can cause immense personal and communal damage. Through various poignant metaphors and impassioned appeals, James calls for Christians to let all their speech be consistent with their Christian profession. James begins this section by focusing on persons who speak publicly the most (i.e teachers) and warns against hastiness in taking up the mantle of teacher since it is so easy to err in speech (morally and doctrinally) and thus incur God’s strict judgement. James then broadens out his instruction on speech to all believers. Just as a tiny metal bit turns a large horse or a small rudder steers a ship, so one’s tongue, though small, has huge effects. One tiny spark starts a huge forest fire. So also the tongue, when broadcasting unchecked sinful inclinations, ignites a destructive conflagration in one’s life and relationships. The tongue is “world of evil” in that all the various forms of wickedness in this fallen world (e.g., lust, hate, jealousy, etc.) find audible expression through the tongue. “Hell” (“Gehenna” in Greek) is a place eternal suffering where the devil, demons and rebellious humans will be thrown in judgement. To speak of speech as “set on fire by hell” implies that sinful words are worthy of God’s eternal judgement. If Christians were judged on the basis of their speech alone, they would be eternally condemned. Thank God for the perfect life and perfect speech of Jesus, which makes us acceptable before God. And thank God for Jesus’ death, which atoned for our sinful deeds and words.
Though the world is filled with various domesticated animals, there are no examples of completely tamed tongues. Even Christians, regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit, must acknowledge how easy it is stumble in speech and how much harm their tongue can cause. James hones in on one particularly troubling sin of speech: slander-the hypocritical inconsistency of praising God while at the same time cursing a human being made in God’s image. James invokes various pictures from nature (water springs, grapevines, figs and olive trees) for his appeal that Christians live consistently with their new status as God’s reborn people.
Today’s Bible Readings:
1 Samuel 8-9, John 6:22-42, Psalm 106:32-48 and Proverbs 14:34-35