James 3:1–12 (NKJV)
James follows up his discussion of faith v. works, or faith plus works, with a discussion of the power of the tongue. Words have a definite effect on the world around you. Your words can bring life or death, and James seeks to warn the Christians reading his letter about the need to get and keep the tongue under the control of the Holy Spirit.
1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.James 3:1-4
James opens this chapter and passage with a warning to Christians that they should know what they are getting into when seeking to become teachers. Teachers are held to a higher standard. They are judged more strictly when transgressing the commands of God. He then points out the very crucial actions of the teacher concerning his or her words. Everyone stumbles, but someone who does not stumble in his or her words is perfect, complete, prepared to handle everything. This person has brought his or her entire body under subjection if they have bridled the tongue. a bridle in the mouth of a horse, a strong and powerful animal, can turn that horse’s entire body, causing the horse to obey a much smaller human being. Ships are large, and can be driven by the wind to cover great expanses of water quickly. However, a small rudder can turn a large ship wherever the pilot desires. Small things can control large things if the right physics and construction are put in play.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.James 3:5-12
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
James then calls out the tongue as a small member of the body that can have power over one’s entire being. While the tongue itself is just a muscle, the words that it forms can have tremendous effects on the life of the one speaking and those to whom he or she speaks. It boasts great power, and can change the atmosphere of a room, or even the quality of a relationship. The tongue can bring down a reputation with just a few words. He goes on to compare the tongue to a small forest fire that can burn up acres of forest if unchecked. The tongue is a world of iniquity, a fire that defiles the whole body. This fire is fire from hell that destroys everything in its path. Every kind of beast and bird has been tamed by mankind at some point. It is possible to domesticate bears, lions, eagles, hawks, snakes, reptiles, but “no man can tame the tongue.” James calls the tongue an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
James then speaks of the duality of the tongue. The tongue is divided, blessing God the Father, but cursing the people who are made in the image of God. Blessings and cursings come out of the same mouth, which is contrary to the fidelity and faith demanded of Christians. Can someone get fresh and salty water from the same spring? Can a fig tree also produce olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Absolutely not! However, the tongues spews sweet and bitter words from the same source. This should not be so. I think Christians everywhere should understand the unity and integrity of spirit that God expects and God supplies gladly to the individual who would serve Him. God does not want part-time Christians in His service. He wants people who will speak of Him and for Him at all times, not speak blessings and cursings, or speak truth and lies, or speak of God and evil with the same passion. Clean up your mouth and speak truth, blessing, and love in all things.