Words of Fire and Poison
James 3:6,8 The tongue is a fire… setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
If you would have asked me two weeks ago if this was one of my defects, I think I would have dismissed the idea. I don’t have a problem controlling my tongue, do I? I have known this passage was coming up however, so I started thinking about it and discovered that I have a problem. I say horrible things all the time.
James speaks of fire to describe the effects of my tongue. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire (3:5)! He says we use our tongue to curse others and in doing so, we let loose a flame that burns those around us and inevitably, burns us.
I do this all too easily. As James said yesterday, we all stumble in many ways (3:2). This should drive me to have compassion for those around me, but the many failures of others are just fuel for the fire of my tongue. I find it comes all too natural to point out the defects of others (behind their back of course).
The will of my self is a tenacious gravity that constantly pulls the gaze of my soul away from God. When I allow my focus to turn to self, I become bitter, resentful, angry, prideful, condescending and just downright mean. This is expressed in my tongue, which is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
James goes on to say that I cannot curse man and bless God at the same time. We may try to do both, but our two-faced attempt to focus on God and self rings false. We cannot run our mouths in a torrent of foul destruction and worship God. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (3:11,12). These things ought not to be so (3:10)!
The practical James teaches me that if I want to follow God, I need to stop following self. I need to control my tongue and shut my mouth.