Power of the Tongue
September 16, 2015
“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. 6 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.” –James 3:5-6
I just love the Book of James. I read it often, particularly when I need some practical advice on how to live as a Christian. James speaks directly to me in words that I can understand. And the book is short so it makes me feel good to know that I have read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. I have always been fascinated by the first part of Chapter 3, the passage about taming my tongue. The vivid imagery grabs me. I can think about my words and the correlation of my thoughts to words, but there is something about the word “tongue” that is solid, real. The tongue is a thing not just a concept. It is a muscle that is exercised when I speak just as my leg muscles are exercised when I walk. This is real. I can understand this.
James talks about how “the tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV). If my legs were to take me to a place where my life was in danger of the fires of hell, I would not go. If my words, my voice, my out loud thoughts take me to that place as well, I wouldn’t worry about it. After all, they’re just words. My words are not tangible. But since my tongue is a real muscle, I think of it differently than just words. It is the same thing, of course, but the difference changes my behavior.
If my words can cause such pain, I ask, why can’t they cause pleasure, goodness, encouragement? And of course, they can. It is a habit, just like walking a certain distance each day is a habit. Just like spending time in prayer and study is a habit. Cultivating good habits often takes longer than allowing bad habits to continue, but it is worth the work.
So instead of feeling unreasonable anger at the man who cut me off in traffic, I can give praise for the teenager who stopped to help a young mother wrestle three small children and a cart full of groceries out of the market, and I can use my tongue to tell that young man that he was pretty cool. I can send a letter commending the employee at the post office whose advice saved me a lot of money. I can use my tongue to tell others about the saving grace of Jesus.
James goes on to say, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (3:11) James is saying that it cannot. The Spirit that transforms individuals into a community of faith is holy not hateful. The Holy Spirit does not produce tongues that wag and wage war against the body of Christ.
And that’s exactly what James is telling Christians: Don’t pull each other down, cradle each other with compassion and forgiveness.
Prayer: Holy God, You are forever encouraging us to be more like You. I give praise and thanksgiving for the writers of the Bible, who had the foresight to write down the thoughts and teachings of Jesus, so that we, over two thousand years later can know what is right and good and acceptable in Your sight. Forgive us, I pray, when we have failed. In the precious name of Jesus, AMEN.
Pastor Helen Schindler
Bethel Baptist Church