And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.James 3:6(NASB)
Following Christ's Resurrection, James, the half-brother of Jesus, believed the gospel of grace and became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. But throughout Christ's earthly life, James had been critical of his half-brother's ministry and at times, he mocked Christ's Messianic claims. Little wonder that much of the epistle of James touches on areas of Christian living that would be close to the heart of this repentant man who identified as a bond-slave of Christ Jesus, the brother he once despised.
He expresses the need for spiritual wisdom and godly discernment and warns of the dangers of doubting the gospel. He emphasises the need to develop patient endurance and shows that the goodness in the heart of the Lord is the antithesis of the evil in the heart of man. He stresses the need to humbly submit to God while resisting the world, the flesh, and the devil, and in Chapter 3 he details the severe damage that can be caused by the careless, critical, or caustic words we say or an unchecked, emotional outburst - especially in connection with those who aspire to become teachers and those who proclaim the gospel to others.
"Let not many of you become teachers," he warns, because God not only places them under stricter judgement, but James also suggests that an inaccurate or careless teaching can have an ongoing, detrimental impact on the listeners which can cause many to be led astray. He points out that the words we say can have a tremendous impact on those who hear us and James likens the tongue, which is a little thing that can influence many people, to a bit in a horse's mouth or a tiny rudder that navigates the direction of a great sea-going vessel.
James reminds us that an uncurbed tongue can do tremendous damage to ourselves and to others and likens it to an unchecked fire that can burn down an entire forest of trees. He writes: "The tongue is [in a sense] a fire, which unleashes a world of injustice and unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members as that which contaminates the entire body. It sets on fire the course of our lives and influences the cycle of mans' existence - and is itself set on fire by hell."
Just as a tiny bit in the mouth of a mighty horse causes it to submit to its rider, so the tongue will direct the path a man takes. Whoever holds the reins of a horse determines the direction it takes - whether for good or for bad. In the same way, the words that proceed from a man's mouth will influence his life, for good or ill, as well as the lives of many who listen to him. Ill-advised words can defile the whole body and set a man and his hearers on a road to destruction, just as the tiniest, badly planned fire can bring ruin to a thriving forest.
The challenge that James is making to all his readers, including those of us in the 21st century, should cause each of us to question the words we speak, the attitude behind what we say, and the motive that directs our speech. We should consider the serious effect that unguarded words can have on those around us and remember that pleasant words, encouraging speech, gracious remarks, and even corrective comments that are spoken in love, are like a honeycomb to the tongue. They are sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.
May the words of our mouth, the meditation of our hearts, the attitude of our soul, and the motive behind all we say and do, be honouring to Christ Jesus our Lord. May we take to heart the wise warning of James - the bond-servant of Christ Jesus and put into practice the wisdom from the book of Proverbs which reminds us: "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise; the tongue of the righteous is choice silver but the heart of the wicked is worth little and the lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom."
O Lord, help me to take this Scripture to heart. I know how much harm words can do as I remember the times I have been hurt by the words of others and hurt others with my own harsh words. Forgive me, Lord. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer. In Jesus' name, AMEN.