James 3:3-4, NIV
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
James is using these two powerful illustrations about a horse and a ship, as a parable to speak to us about how potentially dangerous a very small member of the body – the tongue – can actually be. On the rare occasions that I have ridden a horse, I found that I could, indeed, direct the horse with just a gentle pull on the reins. And on the even rarer occasions when I’ve visited the bridge of a ship, I have been amazed at just how easily someone could turn the wheel, which controlled the rudder, and which then changed the direction of a huge vessel.
James tells us that the tongue has the potential to be like a spark starting a forest fire, or to corrupt the way of life of a person so badly, that it is like hell fire, or full of deadly poison. What a reputation the tongue had in James’ estimation. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of saying the wrong things on occasions and wishing we could take back the words we have said. But that’s one thing we can never do.
Was James over-reacting? For surely the tongue can be a source of great blessing as well? Of course it can and if I were to stop and think for a moment I could remember many wonderful moments when people spoke things into my life or teachings that I had heard, or words of encouragement and love, such as from my Mum or my Dad. But I can also think of times when people said very cruel and uncalled for things and caused much damage and pain.
But let’s not blame the tongue for what the mouth speaks. In reality the tongue is a neutral, physical part of the body! All the tongue does is express the thoughts that we have in our mind. The mouth speaks what the heart is full. So it’s what’s in the heart that really matters – if we guard the mind from thinking evil thoughts, then the tongue won’t speak evil things.
Perhaps we would all do well to speak less and listen more – so that, when we do speak, the tongue will not be in danger of letting us down by saying ungodly or untruthful or unkind things. Perhaps, also, we should consciously be praying that the Holy Spirit will fill our mouth with good things so that the words we speak will always be a blessing and an encouragement to others. We do not want to be guilty of starting fires with wrong words or of steering the ship of our lives onto ‘the rocks’, so that our vessel will be wrecked.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the power of speech and for the wonderful way you gave us to be able to communicate with each other. But Lord, I want to confess, there are times when I’ve said wrong things and hurt people. Please forgive me and freshly anoint me with your Holy Spirit that my tongue will always be a blessing and never be a curse on anyone else’s life or cause damage to my own. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.