“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:1-2).
Fire is both helpful and harmful. With fire we cook our food and heat our homes; however, if not probably controlled, fire can ruin the taste our food and burn down our homes! It is essential, therefore, to have a proper respect for fire and its power so that we use it to help and not to harm.
The way we use our tongues is described in a similar manner. Our tongues can be both harmful and helpful. As the opening verses above indicate, our tongues have the potential to be so destructive in nature that we are warned that many of us should not become teachers because being a teacher involves a lot of use of our tongues. James teaches important truths about the power contained in our tongues so we can take heed and make sure we are using our tongues to help and not to hurt.
First, James describes the difficulty of controlling the tongue. He writes about how we are able to control powerful animals like horses by using bridles and huge objects like ships by the use of a rudder (James 3:3-4). Mankind has been able to tame every kind of powerful animal (James 3:7). However, regarding a small object like our tongue such control is not easily obtained: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). In fact, he says if one can control the tongue he is a perfect man who can not only control the tongue, but the whole body! Like fire, once it starts moving, the tongue is difficult to control.
Second, James warns us about the dangerous and deadly nature of the tongue. He states, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6). If you are like me, you don’t have to think very hard to remember a time when you said something destructive that you wish you could have taken back. Our tongues are capable of causing great harm whether by cursing, gossiping, speaking evil of others or speaking thoughtlessly. Our tongues are described as fire which can leave a great trail of destruction down the path which it has gone!
Finally, the writer acknowledges the duplicity that can be found in our tongues. James says, “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” (James 3:9-10). Our tongues can be used for wonderful things such as praising God, teaching God’s Word, and encouraging and uplifting others; but, like fire that can both help and harm our tongues contain within it the power to destroy and harm.
My tongue is part of my body that God created for His glory (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). I should use it to honor God. However, I am aware that my tongue can be duplicitous as it is with many who both praise God with it and curse others. It also can be very destructive. I rejoice that God has given me a tongue, but, like fire, which must be controlled to be safely used, I must continually watch to keep my tongue under control. Today, I will strive to honor God by the way I use my tongue in my speech.
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matthew 15:18).