Summary: James reminds us that our words can be the most powerful force known to man. Words can set the course of individuals and nations. Consider what God has to say to us about the way we speak.
“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” (James 3:2-12)
James reminds us that our words can be the most powerful force known to man. Words can set the course of individuals and nations. Consider what God has to say to us about the way we speak.
I. Our Tongue Has Great Influence
A. Because of the Direction It Sets (VV.2-4)
Our tongue has great influence because of the direction it sets (vv.2-4). James gives us two illustrations of the power of the tongue to direct the course of events (a bit and rudder). The tongue is a small part of the body but can exert great influence on the direction of lives.
Two warships with the largest full-load displacement in the world are the US Navy aircraft carriers. The USS Nimitz and Dwight D. Eisenhower weigh about 91,400 tons. They are 1,092 feet in length overall and have a speed well in excess of 30 knots with their nuclear-powered 280,000 horse power reactors. Their complement is 6,100 men and women. The total cost of the Eisenhower commissioned on October 18, 1977 exceeded $2 billion excluding the more than 90 plus aircraft carried. As immense as these two ships are they are both turned by one man at the helm controlling a rudder 1/1000th the size of the ship. A tiny rudder controls the course of these great ships.
Life changing events turn on the smallest of words of man. Saul used his words to blame Israel instead of repenting of his sin and lost the kingdom as a result (1 Samuel 15:10-35). It was Israel’s words that made Saul their king in the first place (1 Samuel 8). Because of the words of Israel and then King Saul, Israel saw great misery and missed out on God’s best for that nation. Words have enormous power to change the direction of lives.
Our tongue also has great influence because of the destruction it causes (v.5). Verse five begins with the words even so (behold) which can be translated, “but really pay attention to this!” James is trying to get our attention. The tongue, he says, is like a fire. Fire has the amazing and virtually unique capacity to reproduce itself in an almost unlimited way as long as it has fuel to burn.
On October 8, 1871, at about eight-thirty in the evening, a lantern in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn, presumably kicked over by her cow, ignited the great Chicago fire. The woman was milking her cow; and there was a little lamp of oil, a little flickering flame. The cow kicked over the lamp; and the flame kindled a wisp of hay, and another wisp, until all the hay in the stable was on fire, and the next building was on fire, and the next and the next! The fire spread over the river to the main part of Chicago and swept on until within a territory one mile wide and three miles long, there were only two buildings standing. the little flame from that lamp had laid Chicago in ashes! That was over one half of the city.
Fire will burn until it runs out of fuel. To stop the fires of gossip and slander and malice we have to remove the fuel of wrongly used words. Proverbs says, “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Proverbs 26:20-21).