Summary: It’s easy to start a fire, much harder to put it out. So let us by faith in Christ learn to zip it up, rein in our tongues.
Bite Your Tongue
The story is told of a young man who had just started his new job in the produce department of a grocery store, when a woman came up to him asking to buy a half head of lettuce.
As politely as he could, the young man said that “In this store, we don’t sell half heads of lettuce, we sell whole heads of lettuce.” The lady was remarkably persistent—obnoxiously so. And so in the end, he did what any young produce department grocery store lad would do, and said, “Well, let me go talk to the manager.”
The young man shuffles off to find the manager in the back of the store, not realizing that the woman is following him some distance behind. He gets to the manager, and says in frustration, “I’ve got this crazy old woman out there who wants to buy a half head of lettuce.
Seeing the look of consternation on his manager’s face, the lad realizes all of a sudden that the woman is standing right behind him. He turns and quick as a whip and says, “And this nice lady wants to buy the other half.”
Later that day, the manager complimented him on his very quick thinking, and in the course of the conversation said to the young man, “Where do you come from, where is your home?” “Well,” said the young man, “I’m from Toronto, home of beautiful hockey players and ugly women.” The manager’s face dropped once again as he said, “I’ll have you know, my wife is from Toronto.” Quick as a whip the young man turned around and said, “And what hockey team did you say she plays on?”
Ah yes, the power of the tongue. With it we praise God, says James. And with it we curse men. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. He says, “My brothers, this should not be.” Who of us hasn’t found himself in a situation where we have suffered from foot in mouth disease? Who of us hasn’t been in a situation where we have said things that we desperately wish that we had not said, and that somehow or another we could take back? And who of us hasn’t been the recipient of words spoken in haste, spoken in anger? Truly the tongue can be a source not only of great comfort, but also a source of incredible pain.
And interestingly enough, James, as he continues to develop this subject of what it is to live out your faith in Christ, doesn’t begin with immorality and adultery and drunkenness and the great worldly sins that we might think of. He begins by talking about the sins of the tongue. He says in Verse 26 of Chapter 1, “if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” And in Chapter 3 where he develops this theme in the verses that we have read an even greater specificity and detail, he says in Verse 6, “The tongue is also 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.”
As we look at these two passages in conjunction with each other this morning, I want us to note four observations that James makes about the tongue and it’s power. And here’s the first: the tongue is but a small member of our body. James 3:5, the tongue he says, “is small part of the body.” I don’t know if you have every really thought about it, and it’s kind of a gross thing to suggest, but if you were to cut out somebody’s tongue, how much do you think it would weigh? Well the average male tongue weighs about 70 grams, which is about 2 1/2 ounces and for a woman the average tongue weighs about 60 grams, or a little bit over 2 oz. I will resist the temptation to find a lesson in that.
The tongue is but a small part of the body, but it serves three very important functions: It helps in the tasting of our food, though most of our tasting is a function of smell, as anybody who’s ever had a clogged nose can testify. It helps in swallowing food and of course, it is a very important part of speaking. Cut out somebody’s tongue and you deprive them of the ability to speak.
You’ve heard the phrase tongue-tied—we often use it sort of symbolically in the context of a person who blanks out, and doesn’t know what to say in a given situation. But being tongue-tied is actually a physical condition whereby some people’s tongues are fastened to the bottom of their mouths and without surgery they can never learn how to speak properly. As a matter of fact, there is a disease called Macroglossia that manifests itself in tongues that are too big and that then have to be trimmed back surgically. Sounds like a very unappetizing type of operation to me.