Taming the Tongue & the Perfect Man
Once more James warns the saints of the proper use of the tongue. First, it has the power to direct others through teaching. Not everyone should be a teacher because of their inability to properly communicate (3:1). Teachers of God’s Word will affect many lives. Therefore they must speak the truth in love and live what they teach. While teaching others, they must realize they themselves will be judged by others and by God. An effective teacher will present reliable content, demonstrate competence, and exemplify godly character (2 Timothy 2:2).
Teachers can stumble in their words just like anyone else. Many fail to control their tongues. James compares the controlled tongue to that of a bridled horse. “Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body” (3:3). Secondly, he compares it to the rudder on a large ship (3:4). In World War II slogans were posted to remind people that “Loose lips sink ships.” Giving information out about a ship’s departure time to just anyone could allow a spy to give away the location and time to a U-boat and sink the ship. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).
Tongues also have the power to destroy like a fire (3:5). A little fire can destroy a city. Consider the great Chicago Fire on October 8th, 1871. It all started when a milk cow kicked over a lantern. The tongue is a world of iniquity – sum total of unrighteousness. It defiles the entire body – small muscle corrupt whole bodies. It sets on fire the course of our life – corrupts one’s entire life. It is set on fire by Hell – fire punished with fire. One hundred and twenty-five lives were lost per each word written in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Control the tongue by not feeding the fire. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:20-21).
The tongue has power to destroy like a wild animal. Until it is tamed it is dangerous (3:7).
The tongue has the destructive power of poison like that of a snake (3:8). “They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips” (Ps. 140:3). Man cannot control the tongue on his own. The problem with the tongue begins in the heart. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). God can tame the tongue by changing the heart. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
The tongue can bring forth both blessings and curses. “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (3:9,10). The tongue has both the power to destroy and provide blessings like a fountain of fresh water (3:11). “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked” (Prov. 10:11). “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov. 18:4). “The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death” (Prov. 13:14).
Like a fruit tree, the tongue has the power to provide goodness to others who hear encouraging words (3:12b).
– Daniel R. Vess