Summary: James informs us of these important truths: 1. The tongue is not easily controlled. 2. I allow God to control my tongue, or it controls me. 3.The tongue can be used for good or evil. 4. What I say is a reflection of who I am.
James says, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:8-9). James includes himself as one having this problem, for he says that “no man can tame the tongue,” and he uses the word “we” throughout the passage. We can all include ourselves here as well, can we not? I find myself cringing as I read this passage of Scripture, because I think about the things I have said and how my tongue has wagged. The tongue is truly a restless evil. How many times I have run my mouth before my brain was in gear. How many times I thought I knew something and started talking before I really bothered to find out the truth for sure. How many times I have assumed something, only to find out later I was wrong.
There was a humorous poem going around the internet awhile back called “The Cookie Thief.” It went like this:
A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a bad scene.
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”
With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought. . . oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
Have you ever made a wrong assumption and said too much? Have you ever accused someone of doing something wrong, only to find out that you were the one at fault? The message of James in this third chapter is a continuation of his admonition in the first chapter which said, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). James informs us of several important truths, but the first is this: The tongue is not easily controlled. He says, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8). We have learned how to train all kinds of animals, from birds to killer whales, but we cannot tame the tongue. I went to Sea World and saw seals play ball and a whale jump out of the water and kiss its trainer. I saw a man who trained his dog to shoot pool, and another who taught his parrot to turn off the lights. That seems like it would be very difficult, but I know it can be done because I have seen it. But I have seen very few people who have been in control of their tongues. I have seen athletes train their bodies to do things which seem superhuman, but I have seen those same people unable to train their tongues.
It is just so tempting to share that bit of gossip we have just heard. People will be interested in what we have to say and think that we are in the know. We use our tongues share a secret that could damage someone’s life with the pretext that we wanted people to pray for this special need. We call people names as we drive in our cars because they make us angry. We curse and yell because life makes us angry. We curse at every little irritation. We put someone down in order to feel better about ourselves. We boast and make something sound a little better than it really was. James says, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts” (James 3:5). We tell something that is close to the truth, but not quite close enough to make it true. We slander someone that has offended us or that we don’t like thinking we are getting back at them. It is too good to resist. But James warns, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).