by Stan Mitchell
The words we use are important. If they are kind, they heal. If they are spiteful, they rip and shred others to pieces. Gossip and slander, outbursts in the white heat of anger, and the sting of sarcasm leave permanent scars. There is no feeling so helpless as the one where you know that you have been the subject of gossip, yet have no opportunity to clear your name. Indicted, tried, and convicted, with no chance to explain your actions. And even if you had the chance, to whom would you explain it? Who heard the choice morsels of gossip? And who did they tell? And what part of the story did they embellish?
James describes the action of the tongue in a way that is vivid and colorful, and is worth repeating:
“When we put bits in the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal…”
“Or take ships for an example. Although they are so large, and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder…”
“The tongue is a fire … It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…” (James 3:3-6).
The image is one of an individual run amok. He has completely lost control. A wild horse, rearing and kicking, maiming everyone within its reach. A great ocean-going ship ramming yachts and fishing boats, ruining people’s livelihood and investments; a brush fire, hot and destructive, licking up indiscriminately homes and cars and businesses and lives.
All of these images describe the tongue. Vindictive, damaging, and absolutely out of control. It’s not a pretty picture. But James wants to make a strong point.
Christians don’t talk like this.
James wonders about the irony of a blood-bought child of God who opens his mouth in worship to God, then runs wild with a vindictive tongue.
“Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (2:10,11).
He is suggesting that vile and venomous words are the product of a vile and venomous heart. Our words say more about the one who speaks than it does the one spoken to. It’s a point worth remembering the next time you “let rip” at someone with your words. What do your words say about you?
by Stan Mitchell