“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
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. 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. 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.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:1-12 NIV)
I experienced the truth of this passage the other night when I said something to a student that I shouldn’t have said. I knew it as soon as the words came out of my mouth, but by then it was too late. The words had already landed and the ill effects were immediate. I asked for forgiveness soon after and we have worked through the situation, but it was far from a painless experience.
James says it is impossible to control the tongue—for anyone. Now reading that in the Bible is a little odd because it seems so hopeless. Nobody can control his tongue? Really? Gee, James, thanks for letting me know! I guess that means we should just stop trying. Well, not really.
I think James is setting us up for his point in the next chapter about the need to humble ourselves before God. We humans are bent toward thinking we can do things on our own and that is why we fail so often. By emphasizing our inability to control our tongues, James is taking us out of the equation. Our only hope is to rely on God and that takes humility, often via the path of desperation. We come to the end of ourselves and realize how much we need God. With regard to controlling our tongues, James leaves no doubt our own strivings are useless. We cannot do it. That was made very evident to me the other night.
With that understanding, our only hope then is the Lord, and when we turn to Him, acknowledging our need for His help, He will lift us up. (James 4:10) That is true with all of our struggles in life, but especially so with controlling our tongues. We just can’t do it without the help of the Lord.
Today, realize it is impossible to control everything you say. This is not meant to discourage you so much as to help you see the truth. You need the Lord’s help, and if you don’t realize that, you soon will, just like I did.
© Jim Musser 2012