“The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:21
It’s as simple and as profound as that.
“Wow! Great job!” = Life.
“What’s wrong with you idiot!?” = Death.
“I love you.” = Life
“I wish you had never been born!” = Death.
By this point we know the nursery rhyme is a lie…
But the tongue? Forget it!
Think about the phrases we use…
He has a sharp tongue… You need to hold your tongue… You speak with a forked tongue… Bite your tongue… It was a slip of the tongue.
And those are the nice descreiptions. But they all point to the same problem. Taming the tongue is impossible. So what do you do with the undomesticatable?
01: Be Alert
The tongue is a beast. Don’t let your guard down. Pay close attention to the words you use and what comes out of your mouth. I cringe most days when I do a review!
02: Learn some “commands.”
While you can’t fully overcome the tongue you can teach it some tricks. That’s how lions are “tamed.” It’s why Shamu splashes the crowd on command.
Mom told us, “If you can’t say anything nice; don’t say anything at all.” (And the world went silent.)
Another old stand by is “count to ten” before responding. (Of course, that gives some folks a running mental start!)
What command can you have in reserve?
OK, so you lose it. What’s the result beside embarrassment? What’s going to be your punishment?
Run 10 miles? Give a friend $100 each time? Post an open apology on Facebook?
It may not be possible to completely tame the tongue, we can put in the effort to curb its enthusiasm.
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:5b-6
We’ve all read the reports of great forest fires caused by a careless driver tossing a cigarette out his window. It doesn’t seem like much. A small red tip. Not even a flame. A tiny, little fire.
Yet it touches dry grass. The wind blows. The fire stokes. It spreads. It consumes.
It consumes forests. Homes. Even lives.
James says our tongues are the same way. It just takes a little spark to be destructive. Think about the power of all the 4 letter words in our society. It doesn’t take much to get things started, right?
Think about the number of times someone said something offhanded to you and it lit a fire.
Think of the times you “didn’t mean any harm,” but someone took it wrong.
“A world of evil.”
“Corrupts the whole person.”
“Set on fire by hell.”
Are we tossing our words out like a cigarette out of a moving car? Are we thinking about the result?
You know mom’s old saying… “If you can’t say something nice just don’t say anything at all.”
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts… James 3:3-5a
Dynamite comes in small packages.
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day I was a bodybuilder and power lifter. Way back.
Now my son puts it this way, “Daddy. You’re past your prime.”
One thing I know for sure, shaping our physiques is MUCH easier than controlling our mouths!
It seems today’s verse teaches that our words are directly related to our self-discipline. The better we control our mouth the more our entire life is in control.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1
I’ve taught a bible class at church from around 18 years old right up till today.
Looking back I realize everything hasn’t been spot on. Everything hasn’t been correct. And I read a verse like this one and have one of those “uh-oh” moments. I’m going to be held to a stricter judgment, right?
This verse sets up the rest of the chapter, but what’s really being said?
Think back to chapter 2. What were the problems? 2 major things…
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
“Watch your mouth!”
I must have heard that a thousand times growing up.
Mom would tell me to do something and I would say something “smart.” (Which turned out to be dumb.)
Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:1&6
It’s President’s Day in the U.S. The day is intended to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good… Gen 1:3-4a.
Really? Were words required?
What about a gesture? A nod? Even a wink?
But no. Words.
And God said…
“Let there be light.”
And there was light.
And I believe this was not just an act, but a principle.