So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” – James 3:5-6
The word “tongue” often represents the words that a person says or relays. When you hear a parent tell their child “watch your tongue” it’s almost always in reference to something negative they said or an inappropriate word.
Words are powerful. They can be a source of edification for someone who is discouraged or they can crush the resolve of a growing Christian. Taming the tongue is no easy feat, especially in a world that gives anyone the ability to have an unsolicited opinion via social media.
What does the Bible say about the influence of our tongue and how difficult it is to tame it? Let’s see what the Book of James has to say on the matter.
James begins chapter three with a word of caution that those who decide to be teachers “will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1b). Teachers and preachers are held to a higher standard because of the responsibility that goes along with handling the words of Scripture.
James warns that we all stumble in our walk especially in what comes out of our mouths. Hypothetically, James says that if “anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (3:2b). Obviously, no one is perfect other than Jesus, but if a man could be perfect he would be able to tame his tongue and therefore live a perfect life.
James then goes on to give two examples of how a small thing—a bit (3:3) and a rudder (3:4)—can guide and control something much larger. The final “small member” he mentions is the tongue and how it can destroy others quickly and completely with a single word just like a forest can be consumed by the tiniest of sparks.
The words that come out of our mouths reveal what’s inside our hearts. The condition of our hearts defines who we are and how we behave. The tongue truly does control our whole person. James 3:8 says “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
In the first half of James chapter three, he is purely stating a fact. He is issuing a warning and letting us know that the tongue cannot be tamed—at least not on our own strength.
One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. As Christians, we possess the ability to control the tongue and the words that escape our mouths. Depending on the Spirit is the only way taming the tongue can be accomplished.
In today’s context, Twitter and Facebook have become the platforms in which people can make whatever comments they want with no repercussions. If you watch the news, slander, and mudslinging are expected and certain guests are invited on programs just to be ridiculed.
Although Christians can take advantage of the influence of media in order to spread the gospel, it is very easy to get caught up in sinful behavior by the words we say or type.
We need to depend on the Spirit through prayer to help us respond and treat others the way Jesus would whether inside or outside the church. All of humanity deserves this treatment because every single person was created in the image of God.