Four preachers met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, “Our people come to us and pour out their hearts confessing certain sins and needs. Let us do the same. Confession is good for the soul. In time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to movies and would sneak off when away from his church. The second confessed to smoking cigars, and the third one confessed to playing cards. When it came to the fourth one, he would not confess. The others pressed him saying, “Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?” Finally, he answered, “It is gossiping, and I can hardly wait to get out of here!”
The believers that James addressed in his book were having serious problems with their tongues. That is why he warned them, saying: “Dear brothers, don’t ever forget that it is best to listen much, speak little, and not become angry” (James 1:19 TLB). James mentions the tongue in every chapter of his letter: 1:19, 26 2:12 3:1-18 4:1 1 5:12.
The power of speech is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. With our tongue we can praise, pray, and proclaim. But we can also lie, curse God, and break the hearts of others. Therefore, to impress upon us the importance of controlled speech, and the consequences of our words, James paints six pictures of the tongue’s power for good and evil in these twelve verses of chapter three.
- The Tongue’s Power to be Straightforward – bridle and rudder (3:1-4). James selects two items that are small in themselves, yet they have great power. A bit permits a rider to control the horse; a rudder enables a pilot to steer a huge ship. Our tongues have the power to achieve things. Each of these things must overcome opposing forces. The bit must control the wild nature of the horse, and the rudder must fight the winds that would drive the ship off course. Our sinful nature within and worldly pressures without endeavor to get control of our tongue. No wonder David prayed: “Set a guard, Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing” (Psalm 141:3-4a NASB).
The power to direct means the power to affect the lives of others. A runaway horse or a shipwreck could mean death to someone. Beloved, do not ever minimize the power of the tongue. The apostle Peter preached and three thousand were saved. Edward Kimball led D.L. Moody to Christ resulting in a ministry that prevails today. Jesus spoke to a woman at the well and an entire city was changed. Proverbs 15:1 NLT declares: “We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.”
- The Tongue’s Power to Subdue – fire and beasts (3:5-8). A fire can start with just a tiny spark and destroy a city. Ms. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern that left one hundred thousand people homeless, three hundred dead, costing Chicago four hundred million dollars. Words can start fires. They can defile a marriage and ruin a church. Our words can break hearts, ruin reputations, and even send souls into eternity without Christ. How important it is to “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6 NKJV).
The tongue is also like a dangerous animal. You are warned not to pet dangerous animals in the zoo because you could lose an arm or worse, your life. We would never think of turning hungry lions or poisonous snakes loose in a church service, but unruly tongues can produce the same results!
Animals can be tamed, and fires can be extinguished, but a person’s tongue no one can tame but God. He can use our tongues to share the Good News to others. The most important thing is the heart “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:3 NKJV). If your heart is filled with hatred, Satan will light the fire, but if it is filled with love, God will light the fire.
- The Tongue’s Power to Satisfy – fountain and trees (3:9-12). A fountain supplies fresh, cool water for drinking, washing, cooking, and farming. Proverbs 18:4 NKJV adds: “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook.” Proverbs 10:11 NKJV adds: “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life.” Water that is uncontrolled can bring death and destruction, something we all have seen in mighty hurricanes. Oh, may our words be like that river in Ezekiel 47 that brought life to everything it touched.
The tongue is like a tree. Trees can supply beauty, shade, and fruit. Our words can encourage a weary traveler and help feed a hungry soul. A tree’s root system is vital to healthy growth, likewise we must be rooted and grounded in God’s Word if we would be like that blessed individual in Psalm 1:3 NKJV: “a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. “
May I suggest twelve words that can transform your life and bless others: “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” and “I am praying for you.” Do not say them unless you mean it. Do not read romance into these words. They go deeper than that. If you cannot include these words in your daily vocabulary, you had better keep quiet! Amen?