Chapter 3:3-12 (ESV) - If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Question to consider: What are some ways we can use our tongue to bless those around us?
After making a point about teachers being judged according to what comes out of their mouths, James pointed out that though our tongue is a relatively small part of our bodies, it contains the power to build up or tear down, to bless or to curse. Thus, we should be thoughtful about what we say and realize that ideas have consequences.
In the age of social media, this is particularly difficult, for many of the platforms are designed to produce a flippant reaction. People give 140-character snippets of some random thought that gets captured in a database, and the consequences of those words can be devastating, even years after cultural moods and ideas change.
So James asks his readers to examine their speech to see what it reveals about their character. Are they a wellspring of life or a saltwater pond? These are questions that go well beyond churches in first century Asia Minor to those of us who are reading his letter today. What comes out of my own mouth? Am I quick to criticize everything that other people do or say? Do my words show blessing and gratitude toward God and those around me? Or do I constantly complain about what I think God or the world owes me?
Think about how we can use words to build each other up and encourage one another. At work or school, we can either choose to complain about the task ahead of us and make it a burden for everyone around us, or we can be grateful for the ability to use our gifts and talents to resolve an issue or create something that makes the world a better place.
If you play a team sport, use your words to encourage your teammates and highlight their strengths instead of complaining about the score or the officiating and pointing out everyone’s mistakes. Use words that bring everyone closer together rather than dividing one another and tearing others apart. Granted, there are going to be times when we have to address a painful truth with someone to show true love to them, but even in these times, it should be our goal to bring them through the pain and build them up.
Dear heavenly father, we confess that we can be selfish in our speech and don’t always seek what is best for those around us. Please forgive us and bring us to the place where we build up those around us and overflow with gratitude for all that You have done for us. Amen.