5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Here James personifies the tongue as though it was an autonomous entity. He describes its character as pure evil. Look at all the phrases used: a world of sin; a fire from hell; defiles the body; unruly evil; full of deadly poison. A powerful and nasty thing. James says that a person is unable to tame their tongue, that it speaks praises to God on one side and curses people on the other. He shows us how unnatural this is by the metaphor of a spring which can’t give both fresh and salty water, and trees which can’t produce two different types of fruit. The point of all this is made when James says ‘my friends these things ought not to be so’
This image is powerful and scary; do I have this evil thing in me which I am unable to control? I don’t think so. I agree that I can cause trouble and hurt by the things I say, especially when I speak without thinking. But I don’t agree that I am unable to tame my tongue. I have learned to stop myself saying things which would be hurtful or judgemental or gossip a lot of the time. It’s difficult to hose down the tongue fire sometimes and many times I have wished I could take back words out of the air which breathed them. A curse spoken is given life and power. Words are heard by others and influence others, a racist comment reinforces hate, a hint of gossip causes curiosity, a criticism crushes a willing spirit.
If I praise God and His spirit is in me then I want my tongue to be a blessing to everyone. A spring can’t give bitter water and fresh from the same opening and so If my tongue is controlled by the spirit, it won’t be able to speak bitter words. I am reminded to pause before speaking to check what the impact of what I say will be. If I take a breath in before opening my mouth, in this short time I can take that air captive to the Spirit so that it goes out in words of blessing. I need to do this more consciously, especially in the heat of anger.
Lord please help me to speak the water of life and not the sparks of hell from my tongue. I give you control of my tongue and my ears, help me to tame them.
Written by Dimity Milne