Summary: The tongue is the meanest member in our church. The tongue is a fire and a world of iniquity.
A. The Tongue Pollutes
And, now James, who is the master illustrator, uses several figures of speech again to describe this time, not the influence of the tongue, but the iniquity of the tongue. One of the figures of speech he uses is this: He says the tongue defiles like a broken sewer. Look at it in verse 6: “It defileth the whole body.” Defiled by your tongue. The tongue pollutes like a dripping, broken sewer pipe. The greatest ecological problem in America is the problem of words, wrongly used that defile the whole body.
Are you guilty of using filthy, dirty speech? You know, somehow today the people who are speaking the most about free speech sound like they fought at Valley Forge. And, they think that free speech means the right that they can open their mouths like a sewer, and pour out all of their filth, and all of their dirt, and all of their garbage wherever they want. And, James says the tongue pollutes, it defiles. You beware of the sewer mouth, the gutter mouth.
B. The Tongue Destroys
But, then not only that, James says not only does it defile, like a sewer, it destroys like a hellish arsonist. Look in verse 6 again. He says, “And the tongue is a fire”—and, then he says in the last part of verse 6, it—“setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).
There are people who deliberately, and hellishly, and hurtfully, and hatefully use their tongues to destroy the lives of other people. You may wish to write in your margin Proverbs 16, verses 27 and 28 by this verse, by verse 6. Here’s what that verse says: “An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is a burning fire. A perverse man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends” (Proverbs 16:27–28). The fire of the tongue.
Oh, we talked about arsonists a few weeks ago. Are you guilty of using your tongue in a form of arson? So many people who would not think of using vulgar language, so many cultured ladies who sit around drinking pink tea, and discussing flower arrangements, use their two-inch tongue as a fire. They don’t use vulgar language, they just gossip, and snipe, and criticize. The ladies raid society. And, men, how many times we speak about men as gossips, or women as gossips. Some of the worst gossips I’ve ever known are men, and some of them ministers.
I heard about a lady one time who went to the newspaper office to put something in the society column, and she happened to lean up against a wall where there was a freshly printed piece of newsprint, or at least a type, and it printed on the back of her dress. She didn’t know that it had, but it printed on the back of her dress these words: “Daily News.” All day long people were snickering at her, laughing at her, pointing; she knew something was wrong. Finally, when she got home she said to her husband, “Would you please look on the back of my dress, and see if there’s anything there that ought not to be there.” He looked and said, “No, ma’am, nothing at all.”