Taming the Tongue, Two




            You may have noticed last week, that we really didn't finish the passage in James that we started looking at.  So today, we're going to look at that passage again and finish our look at what he has to say about the tongue.

            In what we looked at last week, James gave us some warnings about the tongue.  For one, he warned his readers about the seriousness of the tongue.  He especially warned anyone who was interested in teaching to consider very deeply how serious it is to teach and proclaim God's Word.  He didn't want to hinder anyone from communicating scriptural truths.  He did want those who were seeking a teaching position to first test their faith to be sure they are saved. 

            Second, James gives a warning concerning the judgment of the tongue.  He is admonishing anyone who has opportunity to teach to take great pains to consider that they will be judged on their words and on their teaching.  Again, he wasn't trying to scare people away from teaching.  He wanted them to make sure that they had an accurate understanding of any truth they were attempting to communicate.

            His last warning was about the control of the tongue.  If we don't control it, it will control us.  It is only the mature believer, with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, who can adequately control his tongue.  When our tongue is controlled as it should be, our speech will be seasoned with salt.  We will speak gracious, edifying uplifting words that impact others and glorify the Lord.    

            Those were the warnings that James gave his readers that we looked at last week.  This morning, we're going to see where James goes on and provides some examples and illustrations of the destructive potential nature of the tongue and of the words that we say.  Let's again read James 3:1-12


            Probably the most famous fire of all time happened on October 18, 1871.  At about 8:30 pm on that fateful night, a lantern in Mrs. O'Leary's barn was presumably kicked over by her cow and ignited the great Chicago fire.  Before it could be contained, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, 300 people were dead and another 125,000 were left homeless.

            There have been plenty of other deadly fires in many different places over the years.  Another rather devastating one occurred in 1903.  A pan of rice boiled over onto a fire, spreading coals across the room and starting a blaze that eventually consumed a square mile of a Korean city.  It burned some 3,000 buildings to the ground.

            After giving some warnings about the tongue, James then provides some analogies to illustrate his point.  The first one is that the tongue is like fire.  (vv. 5b-6).  The tongue's power to control or do anything actually is neutral.  It can work for good or for evil; it can be positive or negative; good or bad.  But what James is doing is focusing on the negative aspects of the use of our tongue.  He doesn't specify any particular problem areas.  But since the tongue is able to talk about any conceivable issue or topic, it has the power to corrupt every conceivable issue or topic.  Whatever subject is speaks of it can damage and pervert. 

            Even subjects and topics that should be rather non-debatable can end up being ruined by the use of our tongue.  Take sports for example.  You might think that talking about a sporting event might be nothing more than a pleasant conversation as we discuss our favorite team.  But how often do those discussions turn into attacks on someone who likes a different team?  Or there are those fans who just like to tear down the other teams fan base just because they're super insecure?  They attack and demean others so they can feel better about themselves.  Then there are plenty of folks who attack and run down the coach because they don't like what he's doing or the direction the program is heading, not that I would know anything about that.  A pleasant talk about sports can quickly turn into sinful language.  I do believe that type of negativity and attacking is not what God wants from our mouths.

            Even discussions about the weather can turn sinful and ugly.  You start off talking about what the day is going to be like and the next thing you know the weather man is being called all kinds of bad names, even though he is not the one controlling the weather.

            The topic of politics is in a whole different sphere all to its own.  There is no longer any sort of rational, logical, sane discussion about politics these days.  Our country is torn in two and there doesn't seem to be any common middle ground any more.  If you're on one side of the aisle and you're talking to someone on the other side of the aisle, things quickly turn to name calling and yelling and screaming.  That's not good; that's not right; that's not the way God wants us to be using our tongue and our words.  We should be able to disagree on things and have a civilized discussion about it.


            In the middle of verse 5, James says, "see."  That word is actually stronger than it seems.  It's really more of a command and is often translated behold.  It's one of those words used to call special attention to what is about to be said or what is about to happen.  The idea is "pay close attention."  It's the same as when Jesus would begin a teaching by saying, truly, truly.  That means what was about to be said was important so listen carefully.

            What James is calling special attention to is the great destructive power of hateful, false, heretical or simply careless words.  This is where he uses the illustration of a small fire causing a great forest fire.  The smallest match or spark can grow into a huge fire that can destroy thousands of acres of forest, killing countless animals and often destroying human life and property.  Our uncontrolled words have the same effect.  Proverbs 26:21

            Fire has the unique capacity to reproduce itself.  It can do that in an almost unlimited way as long as it has fuel to burn.  For instance, it's not the same with water.  If you have a small amount of water and you pour it out, no matter where you pour it out or on what you pour it on, it will never eventually become a flood.  But fire feeds on itself.  If there is sufficient flammable material and enough oxygen to sustain combustion, it will burn on indefinitely.  Our words can have that effect. 

            Verse 6 is no doubt the strongest statement in Scripture on the danger of the tongue.  From what James says here, there are four ways that the tongue is dangerous.  For one, the tongue is the world of iniquity.  World here refers not to the earth, but to a system, scheme or arrangement.  In this case, it is a system of iniquities and evil rebellion, lawlessness and every other form of sin.

            The tongue is the source of unrighteous, ungodly behavior within sinful man.  It breeds and gives vent to every sort of sinful passion and desire.  That iniquity within us comes out through what we say.  No other bodily part has such far reaching potential for disaster and destruction as the tongue.  How many times do people find themselves in some sort of trouble because of something that was said? 

            Two, the tongue defiles the entire body.  The system of iniquity and evil spreads out from the mouth and the tongue and contaminates the rest of the body.  Mark 7:20-23.  The destructiveness of the tongue is like smoke that penetrates and permanently contaminates everything that is exposed to it.  Whatever fire itself cannot destroy, its smoke will permeate and ruin. 

            I think we're all familiar with the effects of smoke.  If you buy a car from someone who smoked a lot while driving, you will never be able to get that smoke smell out of that vehicle.  If you are sitting by a fire at a campout, you're going to smell like smoke for a long time.  You will eventually be able to wash that smell out, but not quickly.  I don't think it does anymore, but we had a fire here at the building shortly after we came.  There were parts of the building that still had a smoke smell many years later.

            Three, the tongue sets on fire the course of our life.  Like physical fire, the destructive effects of evil speech expand, not only contaminating ourselves, but also everything we influence throughout our lives.

            We mentioned last week that we are known by the way we talk.  Over the long haul, what we say gives others a pretty good idea of who and what we really are.  That goes for the good and the bad.  But James is speaking mainly on the negative aspects of our speaking.  Things like gossip, slander, false accusations, lying and filthy language.  All of those sins can and do destroy individual lives, families, schools, churches and communities. 

            Lastly, the sinful tongue is set on fire by hell.  The way this is worded it refers to a continuing state.  This is the only place outside the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke where this term for hell is used.  In those three gospels, the term was always used by Jesus.  It literally means valley of Hinnom.  That is a deep gorge southwest of Jerusalem.  It's where trash, garbage and the bodies of dead animals and executed criminals were dumped and continually burned.

            The location had originally been used by Canaanites and even some Israelite worshipers to sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to the pagan god Molech.  When that practice was permanently halted, the place was considered to be unclean and unfit for any decent usage.  It came to be used as a garbage dump where all of the area filth was taken to be burned.  Because the fire burned all the time and maggots were always present, the Lord used Gehenna to represent the eternal, never ending torment of hell.  Hell is Satan's place and James uses it as a synonym for Satan and his demons.

            The tongue can be Satan's tool.  He uses it to pollute, corrupt and destroy.  It is unbelievably dangerous and destructive.  Even mature believers know that in their remaining fleshly humanness, their tongues still have great power to devastate and therefore need constant guarding and control. 


            A second analogy James makes is that the tongue is wild and untamable(vv. 7-8).  The tongue combats every effort to control and direct it.  The apostle compares the tongue to wild animals.  Every species would include animals that walk, fly, crawl and swim.  Animals from all walks of life have been tamed to one degree or another, by man. 

            For centuries, the major attraction at circuses has been the wild animal acts.  Lions, tigers, and other powerful and dangerous animals do tricks at the command of a human trainer. But no one, in his own power, can tame the tongue.  Even for us as believers, the tongue can easily slip out of its sanctified cage, as it were, and do great harm.  Its work can be so subtle that it often escapes notice until the damage is done.  David even asked for help in this regard.  Ps. 141:3.

            Restless is also translated unstable.  In this context, it goes well beyond the idea of not being at rest.  It suggests the idea of a wild animal fighting fiercely against the restraints of captivity.  This evil chafes at confinement, always seeking a way to escape and to spread its deadly poison.  Its venom is more deadly than a snakes because it can destroy morally, socially, economically and spiritually.

            There are plenty of examples of the destructiveness of the tongue in Scripture.  When Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to King Ahab, Queen Jezebel conspired to have two men falsely accuse him of blasphemy, which resulted in his being stoned to death.  1 Kings 21:9-10.  As recorded in the book of Esther, Satan attempted to use the lies of Haman to exterminate exiled Jews, but was thwarted by Esther and her cousin Mordecai.  Our Lord was put to death because of lies.  Matt. 26:59-60.  Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death because he was falsely accused of blaspheming Moses and God. 


            The last analogy James uses is that the tongue is a conspirer(vv. 9-12).  The unbridled tongue is frequently guilty of a deliberate breach of trust.  The tongue is not just wild and raging like an animal, it is clever; it plots; it is subtly deceptive.  It is eagerly willing to deceive in order to achieve its own advantage.

            We should always use our tongue to bless and praise God.  1 Chron. 29:10.  But with the same tongue with which we bless God, James continues that we also curse men.  He adds that it shouldn't be that way.  A fountain does not produce fresh and bitter water.  Fig trees do not produce olives or vines produce figs.  Salt water does not provide fresh water.  A hateful heart cannot produce loving words or works.  An unrighteous heart cannot produce righteous words or works.  Matt. 7:18-20.

            The wicked scribes and Pharisees claimed to bless God and yet demanded the crucifixion of His Son.  Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, yet denied Him during His trials.  There should be no place in a Christian life for that type of double speech.  It is an unacceptable and intolerant compromise of righteous, holy living.  When God transformed us at our salvation, He gave us the capacity for new redeemed, holy speech.  He expects us as His children to speak only that which is holy and right.   


            Are your words like a fire, producing negative results with every word uttered?  Is your tongue wild and untamable, destroying others in its path?  Does your tongue conspire to deceive and use others for its own benefit? 

            Put out that fire; tame that tongue; control your words for holy and righteous speech.  As our singer and musician come, we invite you to allow the Spirit to tame your tongue.  If there are any public decisions or professions that need to be made this morning, we invite you to respond now as we stand and sing.



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