“…For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” – James 3:2-6.
James 3:1–12 contains the single most sustained discussion in the New Testament on the use of the tongue. One of the marvelous things about this passage is that it requires virtually no explanation. It almost preaches itself, as James piles up one metaphor or analogy upon another. We hardly need to do anything other than simply read the text to grasp its meaning.
In these verses, James offers us a few revealing insights about the tongue. The tongue has great power. And words matter. A lot. James is not telling us to keep our mouth shut at all times, rather he’s telling us that it is a rare and mature person who knows how to control his or her tongue and use it for good. So rather than say nothing, find the wisdom to know when to speak, when not to speak, and what to say.
We need to get to the heart of the matter. We don’t have a tongue problem, we have a heart problem. Jesus says in Luke 6:45: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” A problem controlling your words is not simply a personality flaw or a product of your environment or your culture. It’s an issue of the heart. When we say something we shouldn’t say, we can use the excuse, “I don’t know where that came from.” Actually, we do. It came from the heart.
Jesus came to give you a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” When God is sitting on the throne of our hearts we start to reflect His grace. In our relationships with other people, words used wisely can heal hurts, unravel misunderstandings, point to truth, express love and affection, show respect, reflect repentance, offer forgiveness, bring joy and laughter, give comfort, help us remember what’s important in life, and inspire us to become not just smarter, but wiser human beings.
Trying to control the tongue is a lifelong endeavor. The emphasis shouldn’t be placed on how far we fall short. Instead we can focus on our progress. When we obey God’s Word to become more like Jesus, we are being perfected. We are getting closer and closer to what Christ is like by using words to speak life into the lives of others.
- Why do you think the tongue is such an issue?
- What can we do this week to control the tongue?