“For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water” (James 3:7-12 NET).
Of all the wild animals in the world, the one that is the most difficult to tame and control is…our tongue! Not that our tongue is really a wild animal, but every animal we can think of we have learned in some way to subdue and control.
But controlling our tongue, controlling what we say, seems almost impossible. As James puts it: it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Just when we think we have it mastered, we end up flying off the handle and saying what we know we shouldn’t say. Earlier, James pointed out that if we can control what we say we would be a perfect individual! We could then control every aspect of our body, as well (James 3:2).
As Christians, we come together each Sunday to praise God. We sing praises, we give God glory through our prayers, we extol all the good things he has done for us through our teaching and reading of the Scripture. We go home and we feel built up, that we have grown spiritually, that we have grown closer to God.
But then Monday comes and we are once again dealing with people, many of whom may not even believe in God. They may frustrate us in what they say or what they do. How do we react? Do we respond to them in kind, in the same way they speak to us? With the same mouth we have used to praise God on Sunday, on Monday we end up cursing people – people who are made in the image of God (whether they acknowledge him or not). From the same mouth come blessing and cursing? How can we be Christians and be like this?
James says that this would be like finding a spring that produced both fresh water and bitter (salty) water from the same opening. Think about that picture for a minute. If we were to try to get a drink from that type of spring, what would it be that we would be tasting? Try as we might, we would not be able to get a refreshing drink of water because the salty water would have already mixed with the fresh water and tainted it. All we would taste was bad, salty water.
What is the point James is making? If we are trying to praise God one day and using that same mouth to run down people the next, the bad actually overpowers the good. We really aren’t even praising God on Sunday! After all, God knows what is in our hearts.
What are we to do? We must learn to control what we say every day. When we become a Christian we crucify our old self and take on a new one which is patterned after Jesus. We learn to respond in a gentle way to those around us. “By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings” (James 3:13). “And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace” (James 3:18).
Readings for next week:
27 April – James 4
28 April – James 5
29 April – 1 Corinthians 1
30 April – 1 Corinthians 2
1 May – 1 Corinthians 3