Language is one of the greatest gifts given to humankind. Language is the automobile on which the wheels of communication move. Can you imagine what will happen if a public speaker rises up, majestically moves to a podium, and stands there speechless for a long time. You may probably dial 911 so that some emergency medical attention will be paid to him or her.
As parents, language is what we use to communicate with our kids. Husbands and wives, use language to communicate with their spouses. Teachers use language as a tool to communicate with students. Communicators of God’s word use the channel of language to instruct us in godly wisdom. Politicians running for public office craft their persuasive messages, and use language to win our votes.
The crux of this article is about the positive and negative use of the tongue. According to Newton’s third law of motion, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” That is, if we use our tongues for positive and creative purposes the results will be inevitably inspirational. On the other hand, spewing out negative and uncreative words, utterances, or statements, produce counterproductive, and destructive results.
In the first eight verses of James chapter three, James wastes no time to give us an example that we will easily connect with. He dramatically paints the picture of the use of bits to turn horses into whatever direction we want them to go. In summer 2006, I went to Trout Lake Camp in Minnesota and volunteered to work at the horse coral. My job description ranged from clearing droppings in the horse coral to supervising the kids on horse-rides. Through the bits in the mouths of horses, I saw some five-year-olds turn horses into whatever directions they wanted those huge animals to go.
The experience added up to my idea of what James tries to communicate in the first eight verses of James chapter 3.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly we all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man able to keep his 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 person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:1-8 NIV).
James uses a picturesque to liken ‘tongue’ to ‘bit’. A bit (or rudder) is a ‘flat’ piece connected to a ship, boat, plane or animal used for steering. Of course, tongue refers to a ‘flat’ muscular organ in the mouth used for tasting, and communicating our ideas, feelings and desires. The right use of our tongues can steer us in the right direction, but the wrong use can land us in dangerous seas. I think the ‘voyage of our lives’ very much depends on the way we use our tongues.
In his letter to the Church at Philippi, Paul gives a framework that would help us practically apply what James teaches. Apostle Paul suggests the following:
Finally, brethren whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8 KJV).
The suggestion is that we can use some of the carefully selected words of Paul, in the passage that we just read to form a framework for application. Paul carefully selects and uses such words as, true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good report. Let us use these words as the syllabus around which our thinking exercises evolve as we strive for harmonious relationships in every sphere of life. This simply implies that if we want to form some ideas about ‘Mr. X’ or ‘Mrs. Y’, and talk behind his or her back, it should be within the parameter of the framework suggested by Apostle Paul. It is better for us to shut up than to spew out, behind people’s back, utterances that aren’t true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and so on.
Apostle Paul instructs, “Be angry and sin not….” (Ephesians 4:6). Kenneth Hagin, interprets that passage as saying, “When you are angry, don’t take actions.” Why should we refrain from speaking when we get mad? Because as powerful as the tongue is a blessing, so powerfully can it be a curse! Careful use of the tongue helps us to reduce dissent in our relationships, groups and communities.
No doubt, at one time or another we have used brash words that made our relationships with some people sour. If so, we are encouraged to make it a point of duty to go to those that we have hurt with our words and say sorry, and mend those broken relationships. When mad, don’t act! No matter what the situation is, let us learn to think as we speak, and speak as we think.
Refusing to line up our lives with godly wisdom about the positive and creative use of the tongue can be likened to putting up a fight against a concrete brick wall. There is no gainsaying the fact that when we put up a fight with a concrete brick wall, we will lose.
After the death of Solomon, his son ascended to the throne and made a very casual and irresponsible use of the tongue that led to the disruption of the commonwealth of Israel. So simple a statement as, “If my father did beat you with whip, I will beat you with scorpion”, led to dire consequences. Israel was divided and due to national disunitedness, opposing nations like Assyria and Babylon prevailed upon them and took them into bondage and oppression.
Since the tongue is tiny yet mighty, we should trust God to put chains in the hands of our spirits, so that when we are angry our spirits will chain and take control of our tongues. In the words of Ambrose Bierce, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”