I suppose I could have just titled this blog, “The tongue,” or some other such title. But I wanted to remind myself that this is really part of a longer argument that James is making. That faith expresses itself in love, in purity, and in our speech.
This passage is kind of a revisitation of chapter 1 verse 26 where James wrote,
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
We pointed out when we first looked at this that the reason for this is that our tongue shows the true state of our heart.
So many times people will say apologize for something they said by saying, “Sorry about that. It just kind of popped out.”
But the question is why? Why did it pop out? It popped out because it was there in your heart. It didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It resided in your heart, and when the time was ripe, it burst out.
And the thing is, because we all have sin in our hearts, there are any number of things there ready to pop out when we least expect it.
That’s why James tells us,
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. (2)
Words are much quicker to come out of our mouths then our body is to act on any thought we may have. And so if our heart ever comes to the point of maturity and completion that nothing bad ever pops out, it would be safe to say that we most likely would never do anything wrong.
But of course, as long as we are on this earth, there will always be sin in our hearts. And that’s why James says,
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. (7)
And the thing is, what we say can shape our lives as well as the shape of others. Just as a bit can turn a horse completely around, and a rudder can do the same to a ship, so the tongue can completely turn the life of a person for good or bad.
Unfortunately, too often it turns a person’s life for the worse. James compares it to a spark that can bring down an entire forest. What you say can destroy your whole life, or the life of another. And because of that, James says that such a tongue is set on fire by hell itself.
Jobs are lost because of our words. Marriages die because of our words. Children are crushed because of our words. Friendships are broken by our words. And yet so often we speak them so carelessly. Is it no wonder that James calls them a deadly poison? (8)
With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (9-10)
Put another way, how can we say we love God when we curse people who are made in his image?
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (11-12)
The truth is, while these things should not be, they do happen when it comes to our words because of what’s in our hearts. We have both fresh water and salt water there.
So if you wonder why you struggle so much with your tongue, consider the source of your words? What is in your heart? What bitterness, anger, or other ugliness is there? Because until you let Jesus deal with what’s there, you will never be able to control your tongue.
So let us pray as David did.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)