“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…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.” (James 3:6, 8-10, KJV).
There are not very many people who at some time or another have not experienced pain, hurt, shame, or disgrace, as a result of a person or group of persons’ careless and sometimes deliberate use of an unbridled tongue. Characters have been assassinated, reputations destroyed, spirits broken, lifelong friendships ruined, and seemingly irrepairable damage have been done by some members in the Family of God.
I remain fully convinced that the Body of Christ, generally speaking, has yet to fully understand the power of the tongue. In this context, it is not so much the use of the tongue as an instrument of praise and worship, but moreso its use as an instrument of evil. Among the Body of Christ, this “two-ounce slab of muscle, mucous membrane, and nerves”, often times frame deceit (Ps. 50:19), devises destruction (Ps. 52:2), devours (Ps. 52:4), is a sharp sword (Ps. 57:4), breaks bones (Prov. 25:15), backbites (Prov. 25:23), flatters (Prov. 18:23), and poisons (Rom. 3:13).
The unfortunate thing is that the tongue is simply an instrument that is used. It does not think, nor devise evil, and by itself it really does absolutely nothing. Yet, in the same way that with a bit, a rider can control the body of a horse, and with a rudder, a captain can determine the course of a ship, so it is that the tongue nestled in our mouths control the direction of our lives. It is the owner or master of the tongue that determines how it is used. The tongue basically reflects the contents of the owner’s heart. In Matt 15: 11, 18 and 19 Jesus stated “Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man…But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies (slanders)”. It stands to reason therefore, that the things we say is often a reflection of the things in the heart. No wonder Solomon admonishes us to “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23).
In our reference text, James uses very strong words in describing the tongue. Bible Commentators have observed that “nowhere else in scripture is the tongue pictured with such great pungent language”. In referring to it as “a world of iniquity (unrighteousness)”, and “an unruly evil full of deadly poison”, James was pinpointing how dangerous this little member can be. The reference to deadly poison does project, very forcefully, the deadly nature of the things that can be uttered and its effect upon those at whom it is directed. How many persons have wandered away from Fellowship because they have been wounded by a malicious member? How many lives have been drastically altered because some person thought it funny to pass on rumors and stories they did not bother to verify to determine if they were true? The thinking that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt” is simply untrue and greatly trivializes the power of the spoken word. Solomon observed, “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Prov. 18:14). Whenever tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell and the damage is profound. It is to this evil that James refers.
The tragedy of the whole matter is that those who are bent on using their tongues for evil are often found among those at the center of praise and worship. The same tongue that gossiped, slandered, backbited, and cursed all week, invariably turn to praise when the situation calls for it. It is as James said, “out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing”, yet he profoundly dismisses such contradictory behavior by stating that these things “ought not to be.” A mouth that condemns and slanders while praising God lacks any credibility. As we saw earlier, what the tongue speaks reflects what is in the heart, and if unrighteousness reigns supreme, then our praise and worship is in vain. David declared, “If I regard iniquity (unrighteousness) in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18), and the Christian experience of such a person would be very shallow, if existent any at all.
How are you using your tongue? Do you remember your last conversation when speaking about someone? Was it slanderous? Was it edifying? Would your Lord approve of the things you speak? What is the condition of your heart? Is it a factory for manufacturing evil or is it a factory for manufacturing good? If you use your tongue as an instrument of evil, now is the time to stop and say as the Psalmist, “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). The next time someone calls you to gossip or slander, stop such a one and make it very clear that you will not participate in something that does not contribute to the well being of another person. Sure you might lose some “friends”, but you would have gained the approval of God, and that is far more important.
It is not cool to gossip, or slander, or to destroy another person’s character or reputation. Such behaviors cannot be excused and among the Body of Christ it should not be present. Where it exists, it is my prayer that you will realize that stomping it out starts with you. If we all resolve to not be a part of it, those who choose to delight in the downfall and plight of others, as well as those taking delight in tearing down and cursing others, will soon find themselves all alone with what is left, if anything, of their consciences.
May God grant us the grace to bridle our tongues, and may that which comes out from our hearts be wholesome, edifying, and pleasing unto our God.