“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.”
The largest mammal on the planet is a blue whale, whose tongue can weigh upwards of 2.5 tons. This is approximately the size of an adult elephant. In contrast, the human tongue, on average, is about 4 inches long and weighs less than 4 ounces. The tongue is certainly not one of the strongest muscles in the human body, yet it is perhaps the one capable of the most destruction. Many of us grew up with hearing “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” only to find that some of the deepest hurts we have ever felt, were caused by the unkind words of another. James explains, one of the great problems we all have is that with the same tongue we bless God and curse men.
The Bible points out the sinful uses of the tongue, of which we are all guilty:
COMPLAINING – Philippians 2:14 “Do all things without complaining and disputing . . .”
BACKBITING – Proverbs 25:23 “The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue an angry countenance.”
GOSSIP – Proverbs 18:8 “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.”
Proverbs 26:20 “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”
TEASING – Proverbs 26:18-19 “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘I was only joking!’”
PROFANITY – Colossians 3:8 “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.”
BLASPHEME – James 2:7 “Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?”
We are all aware of the sins of the tongue, are guilty of committing them, and have been hurt by them. The question is, how can we avoid them? Jesus tells us the sins of the tongue are a matter of the heart.
Luke 6:45 “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
The solution then, to overcoming the sins of the tongue, is to focus on what is coming into our lives, and finding residence within our hearts. A number of years ago, a friend of mine was counseling a man who was struggling with outbursts of wrath (anger issues). He could not control his tongue and would lash out at his family. As they finished their conversation and walked to the car, he saw that the passenger seat was filled with hard-core secular music cassettes; the kind that makes you want to bang your head against a wall. He had uncovered part of the cause of the problem. Constantly filling his head with screaming, made it a lot easier to scream at others. In the same way, if you have a problem with profanity, take inventory. What are you putting into your head? If you struggle with gossip, stop listening to it and you will stop spreading it. Garbage in garbage out! The more you fill your mind with the things of God, the more you will find that your tongue is used to bless God and be a blessing to others. Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Questions for James 3
1. In verse 1, James begins with a warning to anyone who aspires to be a teacher of God’s Word. What is the warning?
2. In the Bible, the ministry of pastor-teacher carries a tremendous responsibility to teach what God’s Word says and not offer any opinions. Where the Bible is silent, it is important that we are silent. Where the Bible speaks, it is important that we speak. Are you in a teaching or leadership role? If so, how are you affecting those you lead?
3. Continuing through to verse 12, James teaches us how destructive our tongues can be. He uses very familiar illustrations in verses 3-5 to show us that even though the tongue is small, it boasts great things. In verse 6, he says the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, it defiles the whole body, and it is set on fire by Hell! In other words, the tongues wickedness has its source in Hell itself. Verse 8 tells us that “no man can tame the tongue.” Here are some examples of an untamed tongue: manipulating, flattery, complaining, false teaching, exaggerating, and lying. The acronym T.H.I.N.K. will help you before you speak. Ask yourself is it true? Honest? Intelligent? Necessary? And Kind? If what you are about to say is missing just one of these ingredients then keep your tongue in between your wisdom teeth.
4. Our flesh tells us, “If no man can tame the tongue then why even bother trying?” We will never achieve perfect control of our tongue. Even so, the Lord Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit “may abide with us forever.” We cannot fight the fire of our tongue in our own strength but the fruit of self-control can. Are you reacting in a hateful manner when you get offended? Are you lashing out when you are criticized? Remember Christian, you have the Holy Spirit, the Mighty Counselor.
5. In verses 13-18, James teaches us the contrast between wisdom from God and the wisdom from Satan. As a Christian, wisdoms’ question to us is, “How much have I come to agree with God?” We can measure wisdom by a person’s character and the way they act. The devil inspires things like foolishness that leads to disorder, gossip that leads to conflict and strife, and self-seeking that leads to greed. The wisdom from God leads to peace and goodness. Our society today says, “Go for it, assert yourself, set high goals to attain, and you are the captain of your own ship.” God says, “No man can serve two masters.” Are you tempted by the wisdom of the world? Remember God loves peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9)