Sometimes when we go to the physician’s office, he or she will ask us to stick out our tongues. This is because there are things we can determine about our health by looking at our tongues. Our tongues also can be useful in determining our spiritual health and maturity. We should pay attention to our tongue because…
I. It is powerful (
Words have power. God’s words do, of course, but so do ours. James reminds us a bit and rudder may be small, but they make big differences. Their influence is genuine. Just as a rudder controls a ship and a bit controls a horse, disciplining the tongue helps us control our whole lives.
If you don’t think words are powerful, think of the three most influential leaders of the WWII era. Hitler used words to destroy, but Churchill and Roosevelt used them to inspire. No one can doubt their words were powerful for ill and good.
To James, the tongue is not just revealing the inner character, but the control of it will help us control other areas of our life.
II. It can be dangerous (
The tongue doesn’t just seem to harm; it actually does harm, which is serious. James also compares the tongue to fire. A small spark can start a huge brush or forest fire. Think of how much damage has been wrought by unkind and untrue words. Think of how many careers, friendships, marriages and reputations have been destroyed by a loose tongue. Think not only of how much trouble words got you into, but also of how much more trouble you would have if you actually said everything you think.
III. It is hard to control (
Careless words are so prevalent there hardly could be anyone who doubts how difficult it is to control the tongue.
A young man once approached Socrates to ask if the philosopher would teach him the gift of oratory. His request was followed by an incessant stream of words until Socrates placed his hand over the inquirer’s mouth and said, “Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee.” When the fellow asked why, Socrates replied, “I will have to teach you two sciences. First, how to hold your tongue, and then, how to use it.”
We have a great blessing as Christians. We are not trying to control the tongue on our strength alone, but by the strength of the Spirit within us.
IV. It is easily corrupted (
James deals in these verses with inconsistency. Isn’t this one of the sins people accuse Christians of the most? They don’t just call it inconsistency; they call it hypocrisy. We bless and curse with the same tongue. To make this point, James discusses brackish water. Salt water and fresh water don’t come from the same spring. How easy it is for salt water to corrupt fresh water. He also describes it as a poison. Remember when Isaiah was overcome with sin and how he expressed it? He said he was a man of unclean lips and he lived among a people of unclean lips. We also have great potential to do much good. We don’t have to be in despair. If everything we have talked about is true, the opposite is also true. While James warns us that we never will completely tame the tongue, it is powerful enough and able to be disciplined enough to do good things—to bless, heal and encourage.