The Danger of an Unbridled Tongue
“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. – James 3:3-6
I have heard the tongue described as “the world’s smallest and biggest troublemaker.” That certainly is an accurate description of the tongue. In our text above, James challenges the Christian Jews that had scattered out from Jerusalem to beware of the tongue’s power. There are three things in particular in relation to the power of the tongue that James mentions.
First he mentions the influential power of the tongue. Though the tongue may be a small instrument of the body, it influences the direction one will take. James illustrates the influential power of the tongue by considering small things that control large things. Like a small bit in a horse’s mouth, and like minuscule rudder of a ship, the tongue will direct the course one takes. Think about it. With your tongue you can praise God or curse God. You can encourage someone or discourage someone. You can be a building block or you can be a stumbling block! Your tongue can be used for God’s glory and lead your life down the right path or it can be used for evil, leading you down a path of devastation.
Second, we see the inflammatory power of the tongue. James likens the tongue to fire. The unbridled and undisciplined tongue can bring destruction just like a spark can lead to a forest fire. A careless tongue will spark flames of destructiveness. I am reminded of the great Chicago fire of 1871. The summer of 1871 was very dry, leaving the ground parched. On Sunday evening, October 8th, just after nine o’clock, a fire broke out in the barn behind the home of Catherine O’Leary. Legend says that a cow tipped over a lit lantern left behind by her owner. This careless oversight led to one of the most devastating “city fires” in American history. Two days later, when the fire died out, at least 300 people were dead, 100,000 people were homeless, and $200 million worth of property was destroyed. The entire central business district of Chicago was leveled. With that story in mind, comparing the tongue to fire is a fair assessment. In the same way, a careless unbridled tongue will bring destruction to one’s life. Be aware of the tongues’ inflammatory power!
Finally, we see the infectious power of the tongue. James states that the tongue defiles the body. The tongue acts as a poison that pollutes a person. Like an infectious disease that eats away at the very heart of man, so too can an unbridled tongue. James also states that the tongue “sets on fire the course of our life.” This is better translated “circle of life.” This means that the infection of the tongue can spread beyond the individual to every facet of their life. James closes by saying that the tongue is set on fire by hell. This stresses the influence Satan has over your tongue. He rejoices when you use it for evil. Beware of this truth, and guard your tongue by guarding against the enemy.
How are you using your tongue? Are you using it for God’s glory or for evil? The bottom line is this; Christians are called to bridle their tongue! If you are not doing that, begin today!
– Pastor Eric