When I was in 2nd grade, I was asked to read in front of the entire class. At that time in my life, I stuttered when I got nervous. After I finished reading, a little girl came up to me and told me that I must be STUPID because I was such a bad reader. To this day, almost 30 years later, I can still remember those words that came out of her mouth.
What we say to others impacts them more than we realize. What you say to or about another person has the potential to build up a person and make them successful, or it can tear down a person and eventually turn them into a total failure. When used appropriately, our words have the power to heal, encourage, help, and teach. On the other hand, words can also confuse, embarrass, and hurt.
What do you think about the saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? It isn’t true, is it? There are still words that have stuck in my head that have been said to me that I will never forget. These words have affected the way I live my life, whether I like it or not.
I am so convicted about how we are to use our tongues that I want to present to you five truths about our tongues found in James 3:1-12.
Our tongue control is a sign of maturity. “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)
The word “stumble” in verse two means “to fall” or “to trip.” When my daughters were starting to walk, they would trip constantly. Their clumsiness reflected their immaturity. And I was okay with that because I knew that someday they would grow out of it.
Another word found in verse two is the word “perfect”, which means to be “complete” or “mature.” We are never spiritually mature until we no longer trip people up with our words. “He who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Over time, we should be able to control our tongue just as a maturing child is able to control his legs to walk straight. A Christian who does not control his tongue should be looked at as disabled in some way. They are not developing correctly.
Christians don’t realize how important it is to hone the skill of tongue control. It will affect every other part of their life. If you are able to control your tongue, you will be able to control many other aspects of your life that will come much easier. Certain skills are known as priority skills. If you master one skill, the other related skills come quite naturally. Let me give you a few examples. A marathon runner who runs 26.1 miles for a race has no difficulty running only 1 mile. Someone taking Advanced Calculus should have no problem with basic Math. A mechanic who knows how to tear down an entire engine and put it back together should be able to change the oil in a matter of minutes. If we master the tongue, we have the capacity to master other areas of our lives with far less effort.
Our tongue is small but significant. “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:3-5)
James uses three examples to explain how something so small can have such an immense impact: (1) We can control a horse with a bit; (2) We can control a ship with a small rudder; (3) A forest can burn down from a match. The point here is that even though these three things are small, they can still be used to make a major impact. The rider of the horse can turn the horse wherever he wants it to go. The pilot can turn the rudder wherever he wants the ship to go. One little match can destroy an entire forest and possibly even towns if they are in its way. The same is true with the tongue. Even though it is a small body part, it can make great boasts and potentially do some major damage. That is why we cannot ignore the problem with our tongues.
Our tongue can destroy anything. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)
The word hell used in verse six is actually the word “gehenna.” Gehenna was a place in the valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem where human sacrifice had been offered years before (Jeremiah 7:31). Continuous burning of trash made it a perfect illustration of the lake of fire. James is telling us that an uncontrolled tongue that spews out destructive fire is actually from hell. Hell is the source of an evil tongue. Understand that Hell was created to destroy that which is evil. When we take the trash out of our house, we hope that the garbage man takes it away and destroys it so that we don’t have to worry about it anymore. When people during Bible times took their trash out to the dump in the southern part of Jerusalem, they were hoping that the fire would burn up and destroy all of their trash so that they didn’t have to worry about it anymore. In the same way, our tongues, if left uncontrolled, can destroy anything and make things like trash. Tongues can be a destructive fire which destroys: (1) friendships that are never again as strong; (2) reputations for a lifetime (cf. Proverbs 11:9); (3) a healthy atmosphere in the home; (4) the church’s ability to be effective; (5) closeness with God; (6) a child’s psyche.
Our tongue is like a wild and deadly beast. “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7-8)
You only have to go to the zoo or the circus today to see that James is right when he states that every animal under the sun has been tamed. But what did he say is impossible to tame? THE TONGUE! Just think about all the different animals that have been tamed over the years: Lions, tigers and bears can be tamed. Elephants can be tamed. Most wild animals can be tamed, but we are told that the tongue cannot be tamed. This little part of our body is often times out of control. Our tongue is not just a wild beast though, it is also a deadly beast. Just as snake venom can be deadly, words can also be deadly. The venom of hate and death-dealing gossip can destroy so many things.
Our tongue can promote a double standard. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)
The word translated “curse” in verse nine is not used just to swear at people, but it means that this person has a desire for another to be cut off from God and to experience eternal punishment. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can verbally poison other people behind their backs, but then when they are with them, they treat them as if they are best friends with them. Then, when they leave their presence, they start talking about them again.
Is it possible to say something hurtful to or about someone and then turn around and genuinely worship God with the same tongue? No! Does a fountain send out both salt and fresh water? No! Can a fig tree produce olives? No! Can a vine produce figs? No! Can a tongue really curse another man and then try to worship God with the same tongue? Absolutely not! It is impossible for worship and deadly poison to come out of the same mouth. Out of the mouth of a good man comes good words, but out of the mouth of a sinful man comes sinful words. A transformed tongue must be a top priority for those committed to growing as a Christian.
Who can tame the tongue then, if we can’t? We are told in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. If you are a believer, you should be convicted when your tongue is out of control. Ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you use your tongue to build others up in this life. Pray to the Holy Spirit for the motivation to be the kind of person who breathes life into another person by the uplifting words which come out of your mouth. The power of the Holy Spirit will help you tame your tongue.