My college tennis coach was an unusual man. He had the looks of a Hollywood actor, a master’s in English, and many tennis trophies on his mantel. He once said, “You can tell a lot about the quality of a person’s education by how well they speak.” He went on to explain that if they speak poorly (e.g., poor grammar and communication skills) they hadn’t received a good education regardless of the university. He felt that a school of higher learning was responsible to teach its students how to speak well no matter their course of study.
His statement applies to our spiritual lives, too. In this case, it’s not our grammar or syntax but how we manage our tongues.
James wrote more about the tongue than anybody else in the New Testament. James said, “If you can control your mouth, you’re perfect—not sinless—but mature and healthy.” A mature believer speaks correctly.
James provided three reasons for us to speak correctly.
Our Tongues Have Power to Control Our Destinies (vv. 1-5a)
Our words have a tremendous influence and control over our lives. We shape our words, but our words also shape us. The tongue is small, tiny; because it’s tiny, we think it’s insignificant. Yet it has tremendous power.
Consider a horse bit. A huge stallion weighing 2,000 or 3,000 pounds carries a 95 pound jockey on its back. The jockey can control the mighty horse by a little piece of metal stuck strategically across its tongue. Likewise, our tongues control the direction of our lives. One word or a phrase can influence the ultimate direction of our lives.
Consider a ship. The Queen Mary features three acres of recreational space on board. The anchor is equal to the weight of 10 cars. Yet a relatively small rudder directs the huge ocean liner when at sea. A little rudder keeps it on course. Our tongues are similar. Our tongues are rudders that steer us. Our tongues direct where we go. Our tongues are the steering wheels of our lives, our guidance systems. If we don’t like the way we’re headed right now, we must change the way we talk.
My Tongue Has the Power to Destroy My Life (vv. 5b-8)
Imagine a beautiful forest, tall beautiful trees everywhere. Now imagine it going up in smoke, completely destroyed due to an inadvertent tiny match.
James said our tongues can destroy in the same way. We can lose it all. A careless word can destroy a life. Rumors and gossip are like fire, spreading quickly and wreaking havoc. A careless word has destroyed many marriages, careers, reputations, churches and friendships.
James talked about a zoo. Though animals have been tamed, no person can tame the tongue. It’s restless. It’s always liable to break out at any moment.
Signs are posted throughout the Smokey Mountains: “If you see a bear, don’t get out of your car. Don’t roll down the window. Don’t feed the bears." Why? Because they can maul and kill you.
The same is true for our tongues. The tongue is restless, always liable to break free from its cage. We never know what our mouths might say.
My Tongue Has the Power to Reveal My Demeanor (vv. 9-12)
How can we express love to our kids and the next moment be harsh, cold and mean to them? How can we talk to our spouses in gentle, loving tones and the next minute speak cruelly?
James revealed the answer. Consider the source. Whatever is in the well leaches into the water. Whatever is in the tree is produced in the fruit.
Our problem is not really our tongues but actually our hearts. What’s inside is revealed on the outside. Our mouths eventually betray what is really on the inside. We can fool people for a while, but eventually our tongues are going to reveal what’s on the inside.
It’s true, “You can tell a lot about the depth of a person’s walk with God by how they speak.” What does your tongue say about your walk with God? What does it reveal about you?