Nick Shipman: That Troublesome Tongue | Local News
“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.” (Jam. 3:7-9)
It’s hard to imagine something so small being able to ignite the world on fire, and yet that’s what James argues in his epistle. The apostle begins by drawing his reader’s attention to the reality that small things can sometimes control that which is even greater than themselves. “Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.” (Jam. 3:3). Think of the control that can be exhibited over such a strong creature by something so simple and small.
“Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.” (3:4) Considering how prominent ships were in the first century, not only for the movement of goods, but also for travel, it’s not hard to imagine standing by the sea watching these majestic, powerful vessels glide effortlessly across the waters. One would be amazed to know that such a marvel of ingenuity was having its direction and course guided by a simple small rudder. By directing this rudder, the captain had full control over where this ship would sail.
This introduction brought James to his real point. “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (3:5) The human tongue, here being put forward to represent the whole of man’s speaking ability, is small, and yet capable of great and terrible things. With mere words, life can be given or taken away; war can be instigated, or peace can be proclaimed; love can be whispered, or hate can be spewed. The bit, the rudder, and the tongue are all examples of power being out of proportion with their size.
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” (3:6) The idea here being that every conceivable form of lust, greed, deception, hatred, malignity, and evil is aided, encouraged, and propagated by the tongue. An untamed tongue, James informs, is closely allied with the wickedness and carnality that is found in man. It can destroy the lives of others as well as our own. Reference is made in this verse to the idea of the corrupting and degrading influence one’s speech and words can have on themselves, burning and destroying everything in one’s course of life.
It doesn’t take much scrolling through comment sections on social media to see the utter vitriol people spew toward each other. Words meant to tear down, degrade, vilify and insinuate the worst kind of intentions of others are freely thrown around. One can turn on the radio or any popular TV series and hear all kinds of foul, crude and disgusting language. The political landscape has become so completely divided that individuals simply launch angry invectives at those with whom they disagree.
With just these few verses, we should be drawn to reflect on how we use our tongues, or words, in our own interactions. We should be asking ourselves, “How am I using my words and my speech?” Are we using our words to build others up, to encourage, to admonish, to strengthen? Or are they being used for less noble purposes? Taming our tongues seems almost impossible, as James says. And although we should strive for mastery and control over our tongue, we’re not always going to be perfect.
So, let’s consider some ways in which we can learn to master our tongues and our speech by considering what the Bible says about when to keep our big mouths shut. The Proverbs are an excellent source of wisdom and insight, and it is here we will be drawing deep from the wisdom of God.
“A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated.” (Prov. 14:17) It should be no surprise that in the middle of our angriest moments, we’re more likely to say something hurtful that we don’t mean. But once the comments have been made, they can’t be put back and we must live with the havoc they can cause in our relationships with others. When we feel ourselves getting angry, we should take control and excuse ourselves from the situation, therefore limiting the opportunity for our tongues to run wild.
“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” (Prov. 18:13). A lot of trouble and heartache could be spared in the world if people simply waited to speak on a matter until they knew all the facts. How many stories have been quickly reported on by the media and certain things declared “facts,” only for them to later redact and correct their erroneous conclusions? How many times have we “run our mouths” about someone or some situation before we really knew all the details? The temptation to speak before we know can be strong, but before we do, let’s ask ourselves, “Do I really know the details well enough to be discussing or talking about this?”
“An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.” (Prov. 16:27) How often do we read about people online “digging” up past tweets or social media posts an individual made years ago with the purpose of ruining their lives in the present? How many actors, politicians, socialites have had to make public apologies after someone dug up “dirt” on them? This is done to hurt and embarrass others, but such behavior is indicative of an ungodly person. “Cancel Culture” is a popular topic in our time, but before we grab our proverbial shovels, let us stop and think, “Is what I’m doing going to hurt someone or their reputation needlessly?”
We should tame our tongue when it is time to listen to others (Prov. 13:1), when we should be getting work done (14:23), and when it is none of our business (14:10). We should watch our tongue when we might have to eat our words later (18:21) or be ashamed of them (8:8). And we should avoid using our words to flatter a wicked individual or practice (24:24). Perhaps the most important take away from Proverbs is simply this “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.” (Prov. 21:23). I don’t know about you, but my soul has enough troubles in the day to deal with that I don’t need my mouth adding more to it!
Let’s slow down in our day-to-day lives and care to practice moderation and thought in our words. Look for opportunities to encourage someone or compliment them. The world is an awful place, but we can each do our part to bring about joy by simply giving thought to the things we say to each other. I pray you have a great weekend and God bless!