Summary: The tongue is a powerful tool. However, as someone once said, "When it is good there is nothing better but when it is bad there is nothing worse." It's that last part that moves us to understand the importance of taming the tongue.
INTRODUCTION: In northern New Mexico, at around 5 AM on July 16, 1945, the still dark early morning sky became as bright as the noonday sun. In that one blinding flash, the Atomic Age had begun. The atomic fireball shot upwards at 360 feet per second. The characteristic mushroom cloud formed at 30,000 feet. All that remained on the ground at the blast site were chunks of green radioactive glass that had been created by the incredible heat of the explosion. What unbelievably destructive power as was later found out when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. On December 20, 1951, something else spectacular happened. In Arco, Idaho, the still dark sky was brightened with light as well. Yet this time it was brightened by light bulbs powered by the first electricity produced from nuclear energy. Today, 1/5 of America’s electricity comes from nuclear energy. Electricity that powers homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and churches. The uranium that is used in the nuclear reactor that produces that electricity is the same uranium that is used in the atomic bomb. So what’s the difference? It’s how they’re used. When used one way, atomic energy produces tremendous good. But when used another way, it produces the most terrible destruction imaginable. In our passage this morning, James talks about another extremely powerful object—the tongue. Like atomic energy, the tongue is capable of accomplishing great things. But it is also capable of accomplishing destruction. Therefore, it’s important for us to be tongue tamers.
Teachers (Vs. 3:1). One of the reasons James starts out talking about teachers and then goes into talking about taming the tongue is because that is important for any instructor. We are influencing people by our words/teachings. The title of teacher carries with it much responsibility because its main instrument is the tongue and the tongue is a monumentally important tool. However, taming the tongue is important for the rest of us too because on some level we are all teachers. We are all trying to impart our input on others, whether it be as a parent, friend, boss or co-worker. We all may not have the label of ‘teacher’ but we do carry the responsibility of teaching and therefore, carry the necessity of choosing our words carefully, knowing the weight they can carry. We are all influential to someone by what we say. People are listening to what we say. And we have to ask ourselves, as direct or indirect teachers, “do I want people repeating what they hear me say?” A little boy was leaving church one Sunday morning when he slipped a dollar bill into the pastor’s hand. The pastor looked at him confused and asked him, “What’s that for?” The little boy looked up at him and said, “Cuz I felt sorry for you and want to help you out.” That confused him even more, so he asked, “Why do you feel you need to help me out?” Then the boy said, “Cuz my daddy says you’re the poorest preacher he’s ever heard.” We need to choose our words carefully because of impressionable ears.
In Check (Vs. 3:2). How is it that taming the tongue renders someone perfect and having the rest of him in check? Like James said in 1:26 that if a person doesn’t keep a tight rein on his tongue his religion is worthless. The tongue holds so much power and influence. It is so unmanageable. How often do we have those slips of the tongue? We might be keeping ourselves in check in so many areas but find it so difficult to always watch what comes out our mouth. James is saying that if you are so disciplined as to never be at fault in what you say then you have already done well in taming everything else about you-because the tongue is the last beast to tame so once you tame it-you are tamed-period. If you can tame the tongue then the rest of your body will be in check. However, in controlling the tongue James is not advocating for a vow of silence. What he is doing is advocating for wisely chosen words. Prov. 10:19, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Let your words be few, but let there be words. Just let them be appropriately timed and not quick. The conqueror of the tongue is not the person who never uses words but the one who uses them wisely. Prov. 17:27a, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” We need to keep ourselves in check.
Small but powerful (Vs. 3-5a). One’s tongue can carry a lot of influence. Someone could have eloquent speech and refined rhetoric enough to inspire, motivate and persuade the masses. Charles Rann Kennedy, English playwright, wrote: “There is great power in words. All the things that ever get done in the world, good or bad, are done by words.” With a word things or people can be steered in a different direction. With words we can manipulate people into doing what we want them to do. We might not have the strength to force people to do what we want but with our tongue we can accomplish what we had no power otherwise to do. Our words can carry a lot of weight and can change the course of history. With my words I can win you over; with my words I can get you to do my bidding-with my words. Prov. 18:21a, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” For some people, their words carry so much weight that by their word a person’s life could be spared or it could be taken (Pilate and Jesus). “The tongue is only three inches long but it can kill a man six feet tall.” The tongue is small but very powerful.