Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.James 3:4(NASB)
The tongue is a very small instrument but it can be extremely influential, both for good and for evil. In the book of Proverbs, we find many examples where the tongue can be used for good - but it also describes the harmful mischief-making and untold damage that a deceitful, gossiping, murmuring, or lying tongue can inflict on an innocent victim.
The tongues of the righteous can give great encouragement and instruction, help and warning. The tongue is the beautiful instrument that is utilised to sing words of worshipful praise to the Lord God Almighty, and proclaim the wonders of His name and the glories of His majesty.
However, the tongues of the wicked have been described as tools of destruction and instruments which can produce much pain and heartache. The tongue has been likened to a sharp sword which can inflict malicious backbiting against a neighbour, or has been likened to the poisonous venom of a forked-tongued serpent which can be used to frame deceit and harness trickery.
James gives three illustrations of the significant influence, wide-reaching effect, and damage of which this little member of the body is capable. In the previous verse, he compares the far-reaching effect of one's tongue with the tremendous impact of a tiny, metal bit in a mouth of a horse... and the comparative ease by which the huge animal is brought under control.
In the following verse, he compares the speed and devastation that can be caused by a boasting tongue with a tiny spark which can speedily set ablaze a burning inferno - and which can cause untold damage, destruction, and pain.
Here in this verse, the tongue is compared with the little rudder on a great and mighty sea-going vessel: "Look at the ships," James says, "even though these vessels are so great and can be driven by strong winds, they are still controlled by a very small rudder, which causes them to move wherever the inclination of the pilot desires."
The imagery that James uses to describe the enormous, negative influence that the tongue can inflict, is very convincing and should cause each one of us to carefully guard our tongues, knowing what damage can be caused when words are spoken hastily, carelessly, angrily or cruelly.
May we be those who are careful with words, guard our speech, and use our word to heal and not hurt, to guard and not gossip, to edify and encourage and not to wreak havoc. May our tongues be used to glorify God, knowing that this small instrument is under our personal control. May we choose to curb our tongue and use it for good and not for ill.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the warnings Your Word gives about the devastation that unguarded words can have. Help me to keep my tongue under control, being slow to speak but quick to listen. May the words that I speak and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable to You, my God and my Saviour. In Jesus' name, AMEN.