Today we’ll continue our study of James, chapter 3, by looking at a stern warning about the dangers of an uncontrolled tongue.
Jam. 3:5-8 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! (6) And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. (7) For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: (8) But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
A World of Iniquity
James understood the dangers of an untamed tongue. He warns of those dangers in some of the strongest, plainest language possible. He says of the tongue:
- It boasts great things (lit. “big talk”)
- It is the spark that ignites a forest fire (“matter” = lit. “forest”)
- It is a fire (lit. “lightning” – strikes fast, causes damage.)
- Is a world of iniquity (a cornucopia of corruption)
- It defiles the who body (by drawing it into sin)
- It sets on fire the course of nature (enflames our carnality)
- It is ignited by Hell
- It can’t be tamed
- It is an unruly evil
- It is full of deadly poison
James was not subtle. Controlling our words is the responsibility of every Christian (1:25). If we don’t we can create all sorts of trouble for our neighbors and ourselves.
Can we really blame this on the tongue, though? Is this body part really the essence of evil? Isn’t it the speaker behind the speech that is the problem? I believe it is. The bit has power to direct the horse, but the rider controls the bit. The rudder can turn the boat, but the helmsman turns the rudder. Our words reveal what we are on the inside:
Luk .6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
So the tongue reveals the desperate wickedness of the heart. Not only that, but our words express wickedness in the world. The expression of evil influences others in a way the simply having a wicked heart does not.
No Man Can Tame It
It scary to hear just how evil our tongue can be. It’s even more frightening to hear James say that we can’t tame it. We may want to, try to, but we can’t control it.
As is often the case, James leaves his readers to figure out the theological implications of his words. He doesn’t say, “so just give up.” Neither does he say, “so pray for God’s help.” But I think that second idea is the logical conclusion we’re supposed to reach.
We can’t tame our tongues, so we do what people often do when they reach the end of their abilities – we pray.
Jer. 32:17 Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:
Mat. 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
How Are You Doing?
- Can you think of a time, recently, when your words stirred up a storm?
- Do you realize just how dangerous your words can be?
- Do you pray consistently that God will help you watch your words?
Read James 3:9-12 for tomorrow. Evaluate how consistent your speech is. Do you sound like a Christian in some circumstances, and an unbeliever in other circumstances?