Here’s what James says:
“We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.” (James 3:3-5 NLT)
These verses give three illustrations of the power of the tongue:
1. The little bit that directs a powerful horse
2. The small rudder that turns a huge ship
3. The tiny spark that sets a forest on fire
What’s the lesson in these illustrations? James is telling us how important our tongues are and how much good or damage we can do with our words.
Think about the power of the tongue to create…
- love or loathing
- assurance or doubt
- harmony or hatred
- joy or sorrow
The wrong use of our tongues has…
- Destroyed marriages
- Broken partnerships
- Gotten people fired
- Started fights
- Devastated self-images
- Estranged family members
- Caused neighbor to hate neighbor
- Resulted in assault & murder
- Separated friends
- Started skirmishes and wars
The point is that we had better pay attention to the small yet most powerful part of our bodies and the words that come from it. When used well, it can generate great good. When used wrongly, watch out!
Shocker #2. The tongue is set on fire by hell.
This shocker is found in James 3:6: “And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (NLT)
What’s the point of this discouraging statement? The point is that we’d better be super careful about the words that come from our tongue.
We might be tempted to think that what we say is “no big deal.” Jesus said something quite different in Matthew 12:36-37, “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
Those in a place of leadership, especially spiritual leaders, need to be particularly mindful of their words. A leader’s position magnifies our words. An idle comment might be ignored if made by someone in a non-leadership role, but for leaders, I heard someone say that every word weighs 100 pounds.
Years ago, a supervisor made a very discouraging statement to me. He said something like, “Can’t you do any better than that?” Later he explained that he was trying to motivate me. It didn’t motivate me. It discouraged me and created a wall in my heart. I didn’t want to ever see him again.
I know that my experience with that supervisor is miniscule compared to the verbal abuse suffered by some. Indeed, the tongue is “set on fire by hell!”Shocker #3. We’ll never tame our tongue…without God’s intervention.
James writes, “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7-8 NLT)
The tongue is a slimy, slithering snake-in-the-grass and impossible to tame…without God’s help. Just when we think we’ve got it under control, out comes something we quickly regret, perhaps forever.
Why is this so? It’s because “What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45b NLT)
The words we say reflect the sinfulness inside us: the anger, bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, pride and so on. The only way to clean up the tongue is to clean up the heart.
Is there hope for our slimy, slithering tongue? Yes, the power of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us and His power to change us from the inside out. He is the tongue-tamer!
There is an answer: God’s help.
His power is so great that 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises to Christians:
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (NLT)
Our only hope is for a change inside: spiritual restoration from the inside out.
Here are some suggestions for making this happen:
1. Invite Christ into your life. Click HERE to learn how to do so.
2. Ask God’s Spirit to change you from the inside out
3. Pause before speaking. Consider the impact your words might have.
4. If you slipup, confess your sin to God (1 John 1:9) and apologize to those offended.
This article originally appeared at Mark's blog. Find it here.