Summary: The same tongue which responds to God’s manifest glories by blessing His holy name also denigrates the poor - the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien - who, like us, are made in His image.
BRIDLING THE TONGUE
“If anyone thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26).
James begins his elucidation of this text with a warning against seeking pre-eminence amongst the brethren. This is in keeping with Paul’s teaching concerning the danger of elevating novices to pastoral oversight (1 Timothy 3:6). Not all are called to specific teaching ministries in the church, and those who are must be aware of the heavier responsibility that falls upon their shoulders. “To whom much has been given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
CONTROLLING OUR TONGUE IS A BASIC ESSENTIAL OF HOLY LIVING (cf. Psalm 34:12-13; 1 Peter 3:10). It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). We all make many mistakes, says James, but if we are able to control our words we are well able to bring our bodies into subjection.
This James illustrates, with the bit that we put into a horse’s mouth. With it we can control the whole body of this strong and potentially unruly animal.
Likewise a ship, which is subject to powerful external forces, can be controlled with something as small as a rudder.
(a) In like manner, the tongue is a “micro” member that is able to boast “mega” exploits. If we can control it, we can control our whole body (James 3:2).
(b) THE TONGUE HAS A DISPROPORTIONATE POTENTIAL FOR CAUSING HARM. “Behold, how large a wood a little fire kindles!”
In this illustration, the tongue is a fire.
(a) If the tongue is not controlled, it becomes the manifestation of the world of unrighteousness in our members.
(b) The tongue defiles, stains or spots the body (the same Greek word is used in Jude 23). The verbalising of rebellious ideas in our heads leads us from temptation into sin.
(c) The tongue sets on fire the whole course of human life. Think of the part that words played in the fall of man - and how Jesus’ control of His tongue overcame sin on our behalf (1 Peter 2:22-23).
(d) The source of the flame is - Gehenna. Flames of fire ascend up from that wicked place to spread evil through the tongues of men. It has been suggested that the only antidote is - Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4).
The tongue is an evil incapable of restraint by any mere man. It is full of death-bringing poison (cf. Romans 3:13-14).
FALSE RELIGION IS MANIFESTED IN DOUBLE-TONGUED HYPOCRISY. The same tongue which responds to God’s manifest glories by “blessing His holy name” also denigrates the poor - the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien - who, like us, are made in His image.
Whether in the family of faith, or in the family of mankind - “these things ought not so to be,” says the writer.
James illustrates this by picturing a water-fountain with a double source. Which will it be? If we have sweet water and brackish, which taste will prevail?
Further, the writer illustrates his illustration with another figure: that of various trees and their appropriate fruits. It is a totally reasonable argument. A fountain, therefore, cannot at the same time yield both salt water and fresh.
‘Christians’ should not use their tongues to bless God, and then go on to curse man, who is made in God’s image. It is a contradiction of the faith which they profess (Matthew 7:15-20).