Summary: James recognized that our tongues have the ability to destroy (vv. 5b-6), dispute (vv. 7-8), and double-talk (9-12).
How To Put Out the Fire of the Tongue (Part 2)
Preached by Pastor Tony Miano
Pico Canyon Community Church
May 6, 2001
Introduction: Last week we began our study of James 3:1-12 by looking at the first four and a half verses. We looked at what James had to say about putting out the fire of the tongue by controlling the pride of speech and the power of speech. This morning, as we study the remainder of the passage, we’ll consider how we can put out the fire of our tongues by controlling the perversion of our speech.
Let’s read James 3:1-12 again.
We probably think of profanity when we think of speech that is perverse. Maybe we think of the last off-colored joke we heard at the office. Most Christians probably wouldn’t consider their speech to be perverse. I know that in my life, my speech is much cleaner now than it was before Christ saved me.
The word “pervert” sends chills up and down the spine of the law abiding, morally sensitive person. It probably even carries with it a greater discomfort for the believer. The word brings to mind issues and situations that we would never dream of being part of. You might find interesting Noah Webster’s original definition of the word “pervert,” from the 1828 edition of his dictionary.
Webster defined the verb “to pervert” as “to turn from the truth, or from its proper purpose; to distort from its true use or end . . . to turn from [that which is right to that which is wrong]; to misinterpret or misapply” (Webster, vol. 2, p. 35). So when we speak of the perversion of the tongue, the perversion of our speech, we are speaking of anything we say that causes a turn away from the truth, or from our speech’s proper use.
James addresses the issue of perverse speech by tackling three areas where all people, certainly his readers, struggle from time to time. James recognized that our tongues have the ability to destroy (vv. 5b-6), dispute (vv. 7-8), and double-talk (9-12).
This morning’s study should show all of us that our definition of a perverted tongue, at least until this morning, might not have been broad enough. I also want us to be very clear that what we’re talking about today is not just old habits that might die harder than others. It’s an issue of the heart. It’s a spiritual issue.
A Tongue That Destroys
Let’s take a look at a tongue that destroys. In the second half of verse five, James writes, “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” As we ended our time together last week, we briefly considered how the power of tongue resembles a forest fire. James uses a great deal of emphasis here to paint a very clear picture. And as we look at the last half of verse five, I want you to try to think of a kind of speech that might resemble a wildfire.
Whereas James spoke of the tongue’s power in the last two illustrations, in the second half of verse five he is speaking of the affects of the tongue. It can be every bit as destructive and uncontrollable as a fire. James begins the second half of the verse with the same word he used to begin verse four. Some Bible versions translate the word as “see.” Others translate it as “consider.” But in verse five, it has the same purpose as it did in verse four. James is calling special attention to what he’s about to say. So probably the best way to translate the word is “Behold!”
The way James begins the second half of verse five is a good example of why we should not just look at punctuation to determine where verses, paragraphs, or subjects begin and end in the Scriptures. Remember, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, in all capital letters, with no spaces between the letters and no punctuation marks. It’s probably best if we look at the second half of verse five as a verse in and of itself.
James uses the same Greek word, helikos, to describe “how great” is the forest and “how small” is the spark that sets the forest on fire. The importance of the word is not in the words “great” or “small,” but in the magnitude of each. James does this to make it very clear that the disparity between the spark and the forest with its ensuing fire is extremely large.
Comparing the tongue to the spark and flame of fire would have been a well-known analogy to his readers. Proverbs 16:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire.” And in Proverbs 26:21 we read, “Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”