Passage: My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 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.
Journal: Today we come to the focal point of our imperfection, our tongue. It is the great toilet of mankind. That flushing sound you hear all over the world is man opening his mouth. It is the noise of our age and the sound of our times. This morning I was thinking of God listening to His creation, and how the sound of billions is echoing in heaven's canyons, and how so little of what is being said, or written, or thought, actually brings glory to the One who gave us our tongues, our hands, our minds. His creation is born into rebellion, and the rebellion is sounded from the rooftops each morning, as the sun creeps its way to an awakening of each pocket of rebels in each corner of our world.
James speaks metaphorically, comparing our tongue to a bit in a horse's mouth, a rudder on a ship, a kindling fire, a spring of water, and a fig tree. The point driven home is clear. The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet is the driving force behind how the body is known. A small bit guides a strong horse, a small rudder turns a large vessel, and a small fire begins a raging blaze. Each word we speak either gives glory to God or does not, and this is why the child of God must have the glory of God as his or her central focus. (The apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth: "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2) A fire is destructive to that it consumes. Additionally, the smoke from a fire is destructive to areas that the fire itself never touches. The tongue evidences the inner man; the soul is selfless or selfish at any given moment. A selfish attitude toward God and man evokes a tongue that is a raging fire causing direct and collateral damage; the fire and the smoke. Only God's merciful intervention can "tame the tongue." ("But no man can tame the tongue.") The tongue left alone speaks of man left to himself; a wild horse, a rudderless ship, and an out of control fire.
James also speaks of insincere words, as if a spring giving forth both salt and fresh water or a tree or vine bearing the wrong kind of produce. Jesus often compared the Pharisees to hypocrites which, in the context of the day, denoted actors playing a role. A tongue that spouts both encouraging words, to both God and man, and discouraging words, to both God and man, reflects an inner man playing a role or acting a part. Which characteristic is the role being played? For natural man, whose heart is bent on evil, encouraging words, in the final analysis, are intended to gain an advantage; that is, to benefit the man. A child of God is constantly trying to shake off this old character and put on the new man. The new man may "act out" a few times, feeding the old flesh, but should be characterized by that singular focus of God's glory. So, today, we must endeavor to shout His glory from the rooftops. Otherwise, we join our fellow man, and their tongues, in "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison."