My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great and we are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with 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 of things in 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.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
* * * * * * *
We are a nation of talkers!
Each week nearly forty-five hours of talk programs are carried over the major television networks. Countless hours of radio time are devoted to talk shows in cities around the country. People everywhere have something to say and want to be heard!
But contrary to popular opinion, talk is not cheap! Indeed, talk can be very expensive.
Recently Dr. Wernher von Braun, the American space pioneer, made some startling predictions concerning mass communications. In an article appearing in the Astronautics and Aeronautics Journal, the NASA chief suggested that soon it will be possible to carry out so many different kinds of transactions within the home, that people will be able to live anywhere. Home communication centers will make office buildings, banks, and stores almost obsolete. Direct visual and audio communication will be possible with anyone at anytime and anywhere.
In contrast to the old-fashioned coaxial cable that could handle only one television channel at a time and a few hundred telephone calls, von Braun foresees nuclear lasers handling thousands of television channels along with billions of telephone conversations all at the same time.
Unfortunately, with all our advancement in technology, many people today are speaking, but very few people are listening.
In his 1969 inaugural address, President Richard Nixon told the nation. "America has suffered from a fever of words. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one anotheruntil we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices."
The apostle James, writing to Christians, said, "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (Ja 1:19).
After already drawing our attention to the control of the tongue in chapter 1, James returns to this vital subject in chapter 3. In fact, the matter of self-discipline in our speech is of such importance that James devotes twelve verses to the subject of our tongues in this important chapter.
The tongue is an amazing instrument. Although it is of relatively small size, it is an extremely important member of the body. Often the tongue is a guidepost to our physical well-being. By examining a tongue a doctor can determine much relating to our health. In many respects this same member of our body can also reveal much concerning our spiritual condition.
James obviously was aware of the tongue problems which existed among the believers at Jerusalem as well as elsewhere. As Plummer suggests, James is here speaking directly to those who, "substitute words for works." In chapter 3 verse 1, he warns against being quick to criticize and condemn. It is so easy for our speech to get out of control.
The tongue is the instrument given to us by God to enable us to express how we think and feel. It in turn can become our strongest asset or our greatest liability. The tongue can be a beautiful angel or a hideous demon. It can be pure or vile. It can caress or cut. The tongue can arouse men to act as well as it can subdue their emotions. A false whisper can
infuriate a nation, but the power of eloquence can quell the fury of a multitude. A word of anger can wound, while a word of kindness can win. Words of hate can kill and words of love can comfort. God says: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Pro 18:21).
THE POWER OF THE TONGUE
Yes, my friend, the tongue is powerful!
The eloquence of Bernard of Clairvaux was so great that thousands of people felt compelled to leave their earthly goods behind them and join Europe's Second Crusade.
The rousing delivery of Patrick Henry's immortal words, "Give me liberty or give me death!" inspired the struggling colonies to fight on and secure their national liberty.
Who today will ever forget the stirring words of the young president, John Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for youask what you can do for your country."
The tongue is powerful!
Princes and peasants, countries and continents, towns and cities have been pushed by careless words into bloody battle. Because of angry words, brothers have fought until one dripped with the other's blood; children have forsaken their homes; and best of friends have become bitter enemies. Husbands and wives have been separated forever by a cutting tongue.
James knew well the power of the tongue. He compared it to two devicesthe bit which controls a horse, and the rudder which guides a ship. "Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body" (Ja 3:3).
The horse is a large, strong animal. Many years ago he roamed wild. Yet the bit, part of a bridle, has brought the horse into subjection. The human tongue also will yield to a firm, kind touch of the reins.
Peter said, "He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile" (1 Pe 3:10).
One slogan used during Word War II was, "a slip of the lip may sink a ship." I have a picture of a South Pacific battle scene in which Marines are storming a beachhead. They are dropping everywhere. One Marine is wounded and bleeding. The picture bears a two-word title: Somebody Talked. It may be that the tongue has slain more than have all the bullets and bombs of battle. The book of Proverbs tells us that "A soft tongue breaketh the bone'' (Pro 25:15b). And again we read, "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life" (Pro 13:3).
James also compares the tongue to a ship's rudder. "Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth" (Ja 3:4).
The rudder is not large in size, yet its decisive motion is that which turns the entire ship. The pilot turns the helm, and the vessel changes its course. So the course of a life can be changed by the utterance of a few words.
Twenty-five years ago, I stood in front of a minister with my beautiful bride. When he asked if I would take this young lady to be my wife, I enthusiastically said, "I will." Those two words happily changed the course of my life.
A prisoner stood before a judge. The judge turned and said, "Guilty." One word changed the course of the accused man's life.
What the rudder is to the ship, the tongue is to the body. James is saying that to avoid shipwreckcontrol your tongue!
THE PERILS OF THE TONGUE
Not only is the tongue a mighty power, but it is also a dangerous peril!
"Even so," said James, "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" (Ja 3:5-6). Moffatt translates this, "What a forest is set ablaze by a little spark of fire."
We hear much today, and rightly so, concerning the devastation that occurs each year in our national forests because of careless campers and thoughtless smokers. One match can destroy a forest that has taken a hundred years to grow.
Fire spreads quickly and is soon out of control. One can gossip and then ask God to forgive him. God will forgive, but He alone knows where that gossip will stop. It goes on and on, burning and destroying.
Morgan Blake, sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal, wrote:
I am more deadly than the screaming shell from the howitzer. I win without killing. I tear down homes, break hearts, and wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea, and often as innocent. I never forget and seldom forgive. My name is Gossip.
We can never stop the consequences of a lie. We may explain it, or we may prove it false; yet sooner or later someone will revive the hideous tale.
A fiery tongue is like a burning match in a gasoline tank. The tongue ignites a great fire. A word of hate inflames opposition. A mocking word incites bitterness. An evil word may kindle a career of sin. A foul word heard on the streets, in the shop, or in the school, may start fires burning within until nothing is left but ashes.
Contentious tongues have hindered the work of God a thousand times over. Critical tongues have closed church
doors. Careless tongues have broken the hearts and health of many pastors. The sins of the tongue have besmirched the pure white garments of the bride of Christ. "The tongue is a fire . . . and it is set on fire of hell" (Ja 3:6).
But there is also a heavenly fire. There is a clean fire. Acts 2 refers to "cloven tongues like as of fire" (Ac 2:3). Isaiah 6 speaks of the purifying fire of God which touched and cleansed the lips of the prophet.
Which fire have you experienced? Clean or uncleanthe fire which comes from heaven or that which originates in hell?
God's Word also tells us that the tongue is untameable. "For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind: but the tongue can no man tame" (Ja 3:7-8). In the beginning God gave man dominion over every animal (Gen 1:28). We can tame the horse of the field. We can tame the birds of the air. Even fish have been tamed! But no man can tame the tongue.
In this age of unparalleled technology we have seen man's creative ability result in the taming of nearly all the earth's elements. We have conquered the land, the sea, and even outer space. But we cannot conquer the tongue.
The tongue is sometimes like a whip whose impact produces ugly scars which no doctor can heal. It is like a razor-sharp sword which cuts deep, mortal wounds. The tongue is sometimes a beast trampling ignorantly over precious diamonds.
No man can tame the tongue. But I have good news for youno man can, but Jesus can.
There once was a madman in the land of Gadara. At midnight, he would scream and cause the whole countryside to tremble. Often the calm of the evening was torn by his cry. The Bible tells us that "no man could tame him."
One day this man met Jesus and cried, "What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most High God?" Jesus said, "Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit" (Mk 5:7-8), and the demons came out. The untameable had been tamed.
"And he went his way," the Scriptures tell us, "and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him" (Lk 8:39). No man could tame his tongue, but Jesus did.
Saul of Tarsus had a wicked tongue that scoffed at the early Christians, but Jesus tamed it and made it eloquent in praise.
What about you? Perhaps you have a careless tongue. Let Jesus tame it. Perhaps you have a censoring tongue. Let Jesus tame it. No man can tame the tongue, but Jesus can. The secret of a governable tongue is not self-control but Christ-control. The Lord Jesus had an impressive tongue. The prophet declared, "neither was any deceit in his mouth" (Isa 53:9).
James continues by telling us the tongue "is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (Ja 3:8b). The words of the tongue can be more deadly than the poison of a snake. Paul says, "The poison of asps is under their lips" (Ro 3:13b). Solomon proclaimed, "A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly" (Pro 18:7-8).
The love of Christ is the only antidote to the poison of the tongue. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph 4:29).
THE PERVERSITY OF THE TONGUE
There are two ways in which we can use the tongue. Either we use it to bless or we use it to curse. All which honors God
is blessing. And all that dishonors man, who is in God's image, may be called cursing.
James asks: "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh" (Ja 3:11-12).
Nature has no confusion in her plans. A fountain sends forth sweet water or bitter. A fig tree bears figs; the vine bears grapes. But man, the highest of God's creatures, is confused. He blesses with one breath and curses with the next. If we bless God when we look up to Him and curse Him when we see His likeness in our fellow men, then our cursing is prevailing.
Someone has suggested, "To blow a spark will cause it to burn. To spit on it will put it out. Both are from the mouth." Let us never start fire without words; let us never add to them, but put them out.
Edward Everett Hale in his story The Man Without a Country tells of the young naval officer, Philip Nolan, who with some others was on trial for being false to the service.
As the court session dragged on and the trial came to a close, Nolan was asked if he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States. In a fit of temper he cursed and said, "I wish that I may never hear of the United States again!"
The judge and the jury were shocked! In fifteen minutes they issued the verdict: "The Court decides, subject to the approval of the President, that you shall never hear the name of the United States again." Nolan laughed, but no one else laughed, and he became the man without a country.
We have all been guilty, not of fifteen idle words, but of fifteen million idle words. And we must beg God's forgiveness! "If we confess our sins," says John, "[God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1:9). The word confess is made of two Greek words which mean "to speak or say the same thing." You and I must come to the place where we will say about our sin exactly what God has already said.
A young man had cancer of the tongue. Before the operation the doctor told him that he would never speak again. The young man paused and then said, "Thank God for Jesus Christ." What beautiful last words!
Paul writes, "God also hath highly exalted him . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:9-11).
My friend, will you confess Jesus Christ as Saviour right now? It is not a question of whether you will confess Christbut of whenGod says every tongue shall confess. You will! Will you do it later, compelled by judgment, or will you, of your own volition, do it now?
Say with Frances Havergal,
"Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages for Thee."
Pray with David, "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer" (Ps 19:14).
* "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (Ja 3:8).
* What the rudder is to the ship, the tongue is to the body. James is saying, "To avoid shipwreckcontrol your tongue.
* No man can tame the tongue. But I have good news for youno man can, but Jesus can.
* The secret of a governable tongue is not self-control but Christ-control.
Chapter Eight || Table of Contents