“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. 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” (James 3:3-6, 9-10, NIV).
A large horse can be guided by a small thing like a bit in its mouth. A ship can be steered by a small thing like a rudder which can easily move its large bulk. Small things make a difference in the larger scheme of life. The tongue is a small, but potent instrument. It can destroy a life or build a life. It can speak hope or it can speak destruction. James compares it to a spark which can start a great forest fire. Our tongue is a small, but powerful tool. To be true servants of Jesus Christ, we must have control over our tongue.
Are you like me and can remember a time when you praised someone only to later say something derogatory? Are you like me and ever said anything you have deeply regretted? No one can truly tame his own tongue. The only way to tame the human tongue is by yielding to the Holy Spirit. We need His power to temper our tongues and give us His wisdom in what we say. The 3rd chapter of James reveals that we can either yield our tongues to our feelings with which the enemy controls us, or we can yield ourselves to God's wisdom that is above all else. The two are as different as night and day.
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16, NIV). Two things are mentioned twice in this passage‒envy and selfish ambition. If there is any envy or selfish ambition in what we are saying, it is not of God. God looks upon our heart, and He knows our motives. James goes on to reveal some powerful forces behind envy and selfish ambition: influences which are demonic, unspiritual, and evil. This should be enough to stop us in our tracks and make us consider if what we are about to say comes from envy or ambition. Does it come from a need for recognition? If yes, then we should hold our tongue.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18, NIV). We need to always ask ourselves is what I'm about to say pure (clear with no confusion)? Is it peaceful and considerate of another person's feelings? Is it willing to yield to God's control? Is it merciful? Is it edifying? Is it honest and sincere and free of any hypocrisy? If we speak peace and encouragement, our lives will grow spiritually stronger in His grace.
Things spoken from envy and selfish ambition can cause a great fire and destroy God's purpose. Things spoken with the wisdom that comes from God will edify and reap a great harvest. It is our choice to yield to the Holy Spirit and receive God's wisdom. It is our choice to speak life.