I live in a small rural community where people often burn brush, trash, and other debris that they do not want to take the time to dispose of. It is common in the summer and fall to drive past houses where dark clouds of smoke are billowing from the back yard.
At first it looks like a 911 situation, but eventually, you learn that it is a controlled burn. Most of the time the fire is tended and controlled in a way that it cannot spread to the rest of the yard or the corn fields.
However, from time to time they can get out of hand, and it only takes a little amber that gets out of control that can cause the fire to spread and do a lot of damage.
The Tongue Can Be Just Like a Fire
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6)
James warns us that the tongue is a part of the body that can be just like a fire: when controlled it serves a great and wonderful purpose, but when it is out of control it only takes a little bit to do a great deal of damage.
He points out that it can corrupt a whole person and ruin his whole life. It is amazing that something as simple as words can make such an impact. But we know that God ordained words to be powerful.
In Genesis 1 we see that He created the whole universe by speaking it into existence. Jesus, all throughout the Gospels, healed people by simply speaking healing into their body. In Luke 8:22-25, Jesus calms the storm by simply telling it to be still.
We know that words have power, so how do we as the children of God tame our tongue?
1. Be intentional
When you start a fire to burn trash, you have to be very intentional. You must use the right amount of trash to burn, you must tend to it, burn in a controlled vessel, and above all keep your eye on it.
When we think of our speech we should be the same way. The words we speak should be intentional and God-honoring.
To understand the warning James gives in this verse about the power words have we need to be conscious of not only what we say, but also what we allow our minds to dwell on and the manner in which we say what we say.
James uses two analogies in verses 3-5 in chapter 3. First, he uses the analogy that the tongue is like a bit that goes into the mouth of a horse, and then the analogy of a rudder that steers the ship. Both cases, the bit and the rudder, imply intentional control.
We should pray for the Lord’s guidance and wisdom that our words would be intentional and life-giving.
2. Listen to sound teaching
At the beginning of the chapter, James opens by saying not many of us should be teachers. Preachers and teachers in the church were and still are highly revered, and it can be tempting for many to want to be in the spotlight and have the prestige.
He warns however that there is great responsibility with teaching because words are powerful and they have great influence in the minds of listeners. He goes on to say that people who teach will be judged more strictly and held to a higher standard.
That being said, we know that there are many false teachers in the world today. Be careful that the teaching that you take in whether by sermon or book is Gospel-centered.
Do not assume that just because a preacher or author is teaching something a little off that it is of little consequence. If it is contrary to the Gospel, that’s a big deal. Remember, that a half-truth though it may sound mostly good, is still a lie.
3. Feed Yourself with the Word
The only way to be able to be intentional and life-giving with your words, as well as to be able to identify good teaching, is to feed your self with the Word daily.
God gave us His word not only so that we could know Him and His wonderful plan of salvation, but also so that we would know how to live godly lives. Instruction for Godly speech is found in countless places in the Bible, and the only way to make those truths a real and working part of your life is to preach them to yourself as often as you can.
Taming the tongue is not something we will ever master in fact, James says in verse 8 no man can tame the tongue! But Christ commands us to tame it as much as we can, and that by His help our words can be life-giving and a reflection of His grace in our lives.
What are some areas in your life where your speech could use some taming?