Good morning everyone,
James has been drawing his reader’s attention to the power of the tongue. While it is a very small part of the body, it wields great power. What rolls off our tongue provides a direct glimpse into our hearts. As believers, we are all “teachers’ to some extent. We become teachers when we share our faith. We will all have the unique opportunity of sharing the truth of God’s Word with others.
James continues his discourse on the tongue in verses 5b through 8: “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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
When James provided the examples of a bit and rudder, he provided passive examples, meaning they are waiting to be used. They do not act on their own initiative. The tongue in contrast is a force of its own. James identifies that force as “fire.”
The presence of fire can be both negative and positive. Fire provides a source of light when we find ourselves in darkness. It provides a source of warmth when we are cold. But it also has a destructive nature.
Fire has the ability to consume things to the point of reducing whatever it burns to ashes. It has the ability to inflict severe damage to our bodies and the ability of causing people to flee in terror. Between verses six and twelve, James will suggest several reasons we should keep a close reign on our tongue. Verse 6 alone includes four aspects of the power of the tongue.
His proposition is that the tongue is a power for evil, but that evil power beings as a spark. It is amazing how a small spark can grow into a full blaze. Sparks themselves are very small; like the negative attitude of only one individual that grows into a corporate-wide shift in perspective; the tiny gossip that, when given the opportunity to be fanned into a flame destroys another’s reputation; that minute criticism of someone else that results in their loss of confidence and peace. A full-blown flame only needs a small spark to give it life.
A wise person recently shared this thought with me: “You can avoid a fire by taking care of the spark!”
James’ first proposition: the tongue is a world of unrighteousness. He states it is “a world of evil among the parts of the body.” So, the tongue is a “member” of the body that serves as the focal point of all the unrighteousness within the body. The term “members” is used in reference to the parts of the body, not a member of a group of people.
The second proposition: the tongue has the ability to corrupt the entire body. In contrast, the tongue that is controlled can achieve positive results for the entire body; the tongue left to itself has the power to influence the thoughts, imaginings and plans of the entire person. It leaves an unrighteous mark EVERYWHERE!
Remember, when an individual is able to control the tongue, they are able to “control the whole body as well.” In contrast, the tongue that is not controlled will impact the whole body. Our “body” is the total expression of who we are. With that thought in mind, imagine how destructive the tongue can be for the entire body – our hands, our eyes, our minds, our legs, etc. When our tongue is uncontrolled, our body is “stained” so to speak, a stain that leaves a mark which God…and others can see.
The third proposition: an uncontrolled tongue sets the whole course of one’s life on fire. Solomon, in his wisdom, shared this about the course of life: “There is a time for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
While Solomon identified a variety of seasons in our life, James is saying that an uncontrolled tongue sets a course that extends throughout a person’s life. It is NOT a season that comes and goes. It CONTINUES to generate unrighteousness. What a solemn thought!
The last proposition: The tongue “is itself set on fire by hell.” In doing so, he is submitting that it is anti-God. It is the opposite of God’s nature.
He finishes by saying that it is set on fire, sparked, ignited…..by hell. That means that while it is “anti-God,” it is “pro-Satan!” The tongue becomes an instrument Satan uses for his demonic purposes.
Remember when Jesus shared with His disciples that He would be killed and then raised on the third day. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to You!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’”
I can image Peter regretted ever allowing those words to come out of his mouth. And I can only imagine the further regret when he denied our Savoir three times on the night Christ was arrested. “Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
The power of the tongue. These verses challenge me to consider how much control or lack of control I have over my tongue.