By Randy Dillon
James 3:3-8 ‘Behold, we put bits in the horse’s mouth, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about by a very small helm, withersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. 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. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and the things of the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”
Proverbs 26: 22-24, 28 “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross. He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; . . . A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.”
In a sense, the book of James in the New Testament is similar to the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Both are books dealing with the practical, everyday application of Biblical truth found in God’s Word. While the principal theme of James is the relationship of works and faith, this book, like Proverbs, also considers the issues of wisdom, speech, self-control and successful living.
James begins his examination of speech by providing two analogies to the control of the tongue. First, he cites how a bridle though small can control a powerful horse. Second, he shows that a small rudder can control the direction of a large ship. He then continues by noting how such a small member of the human body (the tongue) can boast of “great things” and how it can kindle a little fire into a great conflagration.
James further says bluntly that the tongue is a “fire, a word of iniquity.” It defiles the whole body and destroys the natural progress of nature in its consequences. In fact, an uncontrolled tongue is subject to the influence of hell itself. Worse yet, it remains untamed, evil and poisonous.
In Proverbs there are at least 55 references to the tongue, 33 of a positive nature and 22 of a negative nature. Jesus also spoke to this matter in Matthew 15: 11 and Mark 7:15 when he told his critics that what defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth, but what comes from the heart of a person and is brought to life on the tongue.
So what are the implications for Christians? First, and foremost, we should guard carefully our words. Not only so in our discourse with other believers, but even more so with unbelievers. Second, we must realize that words do matter. The old child’s saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not directly scriptural although as a Christian it is good advice when we are assaulted verbally with untruths. In any case, we should practice what scripture tells us about guarding our own words.
Another old adage says: “Speak sweet words today; you may have to eat them tomorrow.” As followers of Jesus we should daily examine our every word to assess if our language is Christ-like; if it is encouraging and edifying; if it is kind and caring; if it is sincere and nurturing; if it is peaceful and courteous. If these attributes do not mark our words, we must examine our words and determine to change them to correspond more closely to the words of our Savior and Lord.