Summary: The words that come out of our mouth only reveal what lies in the heart. The only real way to take care of a tongue problem is to allow God to change our heart.
When he talks about taming animals, the contrast is the wildness of the tongue, “full of deadly poison.” When he mentions praising God, he contrasts it with cursing men. There is the image of an unreliable spring that one time you get a drink and it is good fresh water and the next time it is bitter salt water. This tongue that is so powerful and privileged is also wild and bitter and deadly. And we all know what he is talking about. The tongue with all its great potential for goodness in praising God, teaching godliness and encouraging people is more often than not used to destroy and embitter and tear apart.
It wasn’t too long ago that I caught myself in just that position. In a group of people my sharp tongue ran rampant. I buried a verbal dart or two in a friend of mine in front of several other people. It wasn’t really anything intentional. That person is someone I love dearly, and if I thought about it, I wouldn’t want to hurt them for anything. I was trying to be cute. Originally when the words came out they were meant as a joke, but there was too sharp an edge on them. Before I knew it the words were out and there. You know as well as I do that there is no retrieving them once they leave your mouth. The fire was lit, the wild animal was loose and it was doing destruction to the spirit of another one of God’s children, a person I love dearly.
Now I apologized later, and they accepted, but those words and the hurt they caused cannot be retracted. After that incident, I spent a lot of time considering what James said in this passage thinking about that incident. How can I say that my tongue is devoted to God, teach and preach His Word, and then use that same tool to verbally assault someone? And as I considered it, verses 9-11 really struck me. (read vv. 9-11) You see, the type of water that comes from a spring is determined way below the surface of the ground. Down deep in the heart of the earth that water is drawn from a source that is either sparkling and fresh, or it is salty and bitter. And the same is true with wild, deadly and bitter tongues.
The problem isn’t in the mouth. The problem is in the heart. Down in the deeper recesses of our being, where we don’t like to let people see what really exists, that is where the wild, bitter, deadly tongue gets its power. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 12:33-37. (Read) Did you get it? “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” You see, after some real heart searching, I have come to realize that there is sometimes an evil tendency to want to knock people down a notch or two so that it makes me feel like I am a notch higher. That’s not something I say with any pride, but it’s a reality that I have recognized by looking inside. It is a problem I have struggled with for years, and I always have to be on my guard. The sad reality is that I know I’m not alone. Many of us face the challenge of a tongue that runs out of control on occasion.
Now, I want you to be painfully honest with yourself today. What is the struggle you have with your tongue? Do you relish in the juicy tidbit of gossip? Do you have a tendency to be a verbal abuser? Is your tongue careless about what it says and the way it says it? Is there a streak in you that can’t stand to be wrong, and you will fight to the death before you will admit you made a mistake? If you have a problem with a wild, bitter or deadly tongue, realize it is just an overflow valve for a wild, bitter and deadly heart.