“…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” – James 3:5Last week we introduced our topic for the next few weeks–Communication in Marriage. I know I wrote at the end of that teaching that we would discuss guidelines for good communication beginning this week. But God sent me in a different direction as I began praying about this week’s teaching. I was reminded of a key passage of scripture, too critical to ignore, about how important our words are to God. So the guidelines will have to wait until next week.This week we will explore one of the most important passages about our words in Scripture–James 3:1-12.
Controlling Your Tongue
James first discusses our tongue–our words–in James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” He writes more about our words a few verses later in James 1:26: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
Being able to control our tongue is a mark of having God’s wisdom. In this week’s key passage James expands on these ideas extensively, and once again shows the importance of our actual words.
A special warning to teachers is given in James 3:1: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” This is because their role in the church includes speaking as part of their calling. But this warning should be heeded by all believers. Note “my brothers” in verse 1 and “we all” in verse 2: “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”
Being able to control what we say is a vital part of our Christian walk. This is true in our close relationships, as with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And it is especially true in our marriage relationship, where we are called to be as one.
Small, Yet Impact Huge
James gives four powerful examples of how the tongue–everything we say– can affect our relationships. The tongue may be a tiny part of the body, but it has a huge impact.
A Small Bit Controls the Horse
James 3:3 compares the tongue to a small bit in a horse’s mouth that controls the entire animal: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.”
The bit is a tiny piece of metal, but when attached to the leather reins the rider holds, the horse can be moved in any direction.
I rode horses on my grandfather’s farm in Florida as a young boy. My small, skinny frame looked fragile on top of that beast of a horse, I’m sure. But when my grandfather put that bit in the monster’s mouth and handed me the reins, he’d say, “Keep a tight hold on them and he’ll go wherever you want him to. Remember who’s in control. Let them loose or let them go, and he’ll know he’s in control. Then you’ll both be in trouble.”
When we keep control of our words, we accomplish the good things God desires. We bring love, joy, peace, kindness, and encouragement to our spouses. But when we let our words go uncontrolled, they bring pain and sorrow to our spouses and harm our marriages.
A Small Rudder Controls the Ship
The second example James uses in verse 4 is similar: “Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.”
A ship is a large vessel controlled by a man using a steering wheel attached to a rudder– a small piece of wood or metal. The sailor turns the wheel, which turns the rudder, and the ship goes in the direction the sailor commands.
I grew up in Miami and one day went sailing with a friend on Biscayne Bay. It was a beautiful day until late in the afternoon when dark clouds began to build up. We decided it was time to head for shore, as did every other boat in the bay. A large cruiser came flying close by us, and its huge wake nearly capsized us. It didn’t, but our rudder was broken and useless. We were adrift with no control of the boat. The only way back to shore was to jump overboard, grab onto the back, and kick-push the boat. The lightning began flashing all around us, and we barely reached the land before the rain started pouring down. I have rarely been so frightened.
An out-of-control tongue is like that broken rudder. It will never get us where we need to go. In fact, it might lead us and those around us into frightening situations. We need to carefully consider our words so we can direct them to bring blessing and not harm to those who hear them.
A Small Spark Ignites a Wildfire
Our tongue is very small but can cause a great deal of damage. James 3:5-6 says: “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
A couple of years ago here in Texas, someone threw a cigarette out their car window into some dry brush by the side of the road. That little spark started a wildfire that destroyed over 1,000 acres of trees and vegetation before it was contained.
God’s Word tells us that our ”harmless” and “meaningless” words can be just like that little cigarette. They impact others, including our spouses (and us), and leave a trail of destruction as they go.
Taming the Wild
The last example in this passage is in James 3:7-8: “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
I’m sure you’ve probably been to a circus. I loved going as a child and especially liked seeing the big cats—lions and tigers. It was amazing watching the animal trainers getting in the animals’ area with them. I knew we were safe behind the fencing, but the trainers were right there with them. And I remember feeling anxious because we were told those wild animals could never be fully tamed.
Even those big cats were tamed to a certain degree, but James tells us in this passage, that “no man can tame the tongue.”
We can do our best to stay in control and choose our words carefully, but we are unable on our own. We need help.
Control Comes from The Lord
So what hope is there for us? The end of the passage provides the hope.
Fresh and salt water cannot come from the same source, James rightly reminds us. Olives cannot come from a fig tree, nor figs from a grapevine. Equally true. So ugly, hurtful words about another–like our spouses–and praise for God cannot come from the same source.
And what is that source? We’ve discussed it before. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
It is our hearts, or that which controls us, that controls our tongue–our words–also. If Christ is our Lord and controls us, it will be heard in our words. They will be loving, gracious, and kind. If something else, like we and our flesh, are in control, that will also be heard in our words. They will be hurtful, harmful, and harsh.
Remember your words are powerful and important according to God. So keep praying along with David, as he did in Psalm 39:1: “…I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin….”
Next week we really will begin discussing how the Bible teaches us to make sure our words are pleasing to our Lord, and helpful to our spouses, as well as our children, and all others.
May God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.