Controlling the Tongue

Last week was the Chebogyan County Fair and so I took my three oldest. Among their favorite things to see were the horses. I admit that my knowledge of horses is extremely limited. But the one thing that amazes me is the way a rider/driver is able to control such a large and powerful animal by placing a bit in the mouth. The apostle James picks up exactly this picture to describe the way in which a person is controlled by their tongue (James 3:1-12).  For those who prefer boating, he gives the analogy of the way a rudder steers a ship.
James counsels us here that if we wish to be pure and more like Christ, the place to begin is the tongue, because “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evils 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 3:6) When we think of the necessity of controlling our words, we often think in terms of the reaction of others: if we life, people will not trust us; speak harshly and people will not like you. James points to a more personal reason for controlling the tongue – that sin in your speech will spread to the rest of your life. Read James 3:6 again and see how he describes the tongue as “a world of evils” that “corrupts the whole person”, setting the “whole course of his life on fire.” Yes, that little tongue is very powerful. And very dangerous. Not only to our listeners, but also to ourselves.
Yet, we as followers of Christ often fail to see the inconsistency in our lives of the way we use our tongues. We sing together on Sunday, “Bind Us Together” and then make snide remarks about a fellow member in the parking lot. We offer up a prayer that says “as we forgive those who trespass against us”, but hold a grudge for years about a slight someone made against us. We are challenged by Jesus to pray for our enemies, yet some of the most hateful, vitriolic speech I have seen during the current health care debate has come from those call themselves Christians. From left and right, from leaders and ordinary Christians, the gossip, slander, lies and meanness are simply unbelievable. I hear and read it and want to ask, “Do you praise your God with that same tongue?”, which is exactly the point James is making.
Back to the point – what James is telling us is that if we want to be more like Jesus, then we have to begin with that little part of our body that spreads so much evil and infects the rest of us. Yet, we say, “But, I can’t help it. I’m just a person who speaks their mind. I know I talk too much. I gossip, but it’s only a little stuff.” To all these, James says “Purify your speech. Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Discipline your tongue.” We cannot do it on our own, but with God’s help, it is possible. God desires to see us pure and will give wisdom to us when we ask (James 1:5). Ask him. Then begin to practice. When you disagree with someone, listen to them until you can’t stand it any more, then listen a little bit longer. Spend some time in silence: try a whole day without talking; the world will not fall apart because no one heard you. Memorize James 1:19. Let God’s Holy Spirit work on your tongue, and you will see the rest of your life transformed. And that is what we want – to be each day ever more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

Join the conversation