Published March 31, 2005
James 3:2b-12; 4:11-12; 5:12
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, April 17
We have all heard the joke about the church gossip who said, "I wanted to put my tongue on the altar" only to be told, "there's not an altar that long anywhere!" While the joke may be funny, there is nothing funny about a rogue tongue. The hurt, pain and damage an uncontrolled tongue can cause has been well documented in history and in far too many hearts.
After reading all that James says about the tongue, can you imagine what it must have been like to be in that church! James, through four issues relating to our speech, gives us serious and desperately-needed counsel on our tongue.
Control your tongue, 3:2b-6
James says in 3:2 that a controlled tongue is an evidence of maturity and is a sign that a person can control their whole body! The word "perfect" does not mean sinless, but rather means "complete" or "mature" - not lacking for control in their spiritual life.
The bit in the mouth of a horse and the rudder on the back of a ship are examples of small devices that control things with much greater force than the device itself contains. The horse has much greater strength than the man who holds the reigns. The wind force that moves a ship is far greater in strength than the man who holds the helm.
Yet, these two tremendous forces are controlled by small "members" (devices) that by design were created to give direction and control into the hands of another. The person who controls their tongue can give righteous, safe direction to their whole life.
Like a horse or wind, a fire that is under control is no cause for fear. With a controlled fire we can cook our food and warm our homes, but a fire out of control has the capacity to destroy all we possess and even take our lives.
Because of our fallen nature, James says our tongue is a fire that is kindled in hell. That uncontrolled fire in our midst defiles, like fire damage to an entire house, our entire life. Like starting a wheel rolling down a hill, an uncontrolled tongue starts wheels (course of nature) of destruction turning that run over others and will eventually run us over as well. We must control our tongue!
Recognize the potential, of speech, 3:7-12
Man has demonstrated, in practically every species of animal, his ability to tame (bring under control) that which was born wild and potentially harmful to him. However, James teaches us that no man has the ability to tame his own tongue. The poison in the tongue originates in the heart and only God can change and tame the heart.
The hypocrisy of an uncontrolled tongue is evident in the contrasting ways a believer uses his or her tongue. With one tongue, we both "bless" God our creator then "curse" another person God created in His image! God's Word says, "These things ought not to be so!" The words a man uses demonstrate his character like fresh or salt water demonstrates its origin. Like fruit is to the root, so is a man's tongue to his heart!
Avoid destructive criticism, 4:11-12
The Bible makes clear that there are times when Christians are to confront one another in love. Proverbs says, "Open rebuke is better than secret love" and that "Wounds of a friend are faithful." We are told to confront the sinning brother (Matt. 18) with the intent to restore that brother to righteous living.
James would agree that there are times when biblical, godly confrontation and criticism should be done (James 5:19-20). James uses the word "brother" three times in this verse and reminds us of the familial relationship we enjoy. While we might expect the world to slander, this should never be done by one of the Family!
However, the command "do not speak evil of another" is clearly and totally different! The word "evil" is the word "slander." Webster defines slander as "the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another's reputation."
James says that in order to speak "evil" of another we have to "judge" that person, which requires the ability to see their heart, know their motives and have knowledge of their understanding! Only God is qualified to judge! When we slander another we are acting like God and we are obviously NOT qualified for that job!
Tell the truth, 5:12
In biblical times the swearing of oaths was very predominate. Since men by fallen nature are liars, a sneaky system of oaths was devised that allowed one to take an oath that wasn't considered binding to give the appearance of truthfulness. Especially among Jewish believers, this practice had become an issue. But since a Christian's life is to be characterized by honesty and integrity and our speech is to be honest (Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9) such oaths were totally unnecessary. For a Christian "yes" and "no," given with integrity, was more than sufficient.
James warned that if one failed to follow this command they ran the risk of falling into judgment. The word translated "judgment" is the word elsewhere translated "hypocrisy." This takes us back to the issue of the heart! When our speech is out of control, slander and lying are going to be prevalent.
James says that no man can subdue his tongue on his own. Only God can tame our hearts and our tongues. No other area in the Christian life demonstrates the genuineness and sincerity of our faith like our tongue! What's your tongue saying about you?
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