It is fascinating how something so small can have such a tremendous effect. The tongue and the words we speak are an incredible guide for how we put on the full display of the Gospel in our lives. The way we address people, things, and discuss our situations can guide and steer our whole outlook and worldview. Even worse, it can reveal the treasonous nature inside of ourselves. The same mouth that produces praise for God also produces the same foul hatred and despair for others and the world around us. Clearly, the tongue, with its great potential to speak life also carries with it an undeniable temptation to tear down.
‘Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
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. 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
The Potential for Language
As James begins discussing how to live out our faith with out works, he delves into the specifics of what we say. For some, he idea behind language is relatively innocuous. “It’s only words!” the skeptic would proclaim while simultaneously forgetting the tears and the pain caused by the insults of our youth. James, however, paints a different picture. Words, however small they may appear, have great impact. In using the metaphors of the bit in the horses mouth and the rudder on the large ship, we get a feel for the sheer unreserved power of words. They reserve for themselves an unrelenting power and force to direct and guide even the strongest of animals and the greatest of transportive achievements of the day. It was by words that existence was brought into existence and this same authority has been given to each of us. We have, within our words, the ability to speak life into a person, or whole heartedly remove it.
The Problem of Inconsistencies
The inconsistencies of our speech reveal a much deeper issue. At no point in Jame’s discussion of language is he referring to anything external. While the effect that our words have on others is undeniable, the deeper issue, as with most things, stems from the heart. The relationship between heart and words is an odd symbiosis of each one effecting the other. Whatever is in our hearts will be expressed and whatever is expressed is reinforced in our hearts. Thus, when we see inconsistencies in our speech, we can easily pinpoint the turmoil deep within our soul. Something is deeply out of place and misguided. A heart fully surrendered to God will produce the speech of God. Ultimately, just as fresh water and salt water cannot peacefully coexist, our speech must give way to the language of God. In doing so, our hearts will be shaped and renewed through the desire God invigorates inside of us to speak whatever is pleasing and good.