“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.” (James 3:6–12, ESV)
I’m not an pet guy. I’ve tried it and animals and I just don’t work out. Nonetheless, I do enjoy watching animals at shows or on Planet Earth, so long as they keep their distance and I am not responsible for cleaning their messes and stains. I am especially impressed whenever I see people teaching incredible stunts to animals whether it be dog owners on the beach, trainers at SeaWorld or circus bears (when they ride their wee bikes with those teeny Shriners hats, no human being can resist a smile). To tame a wild animal (as if teaching it NOT to eat you isn’t impressive enough) and then teaching it to perform difficult tricks on command requires time, patience and lots of skill.
Today’s passage tells us that there is one wild thing that man has yet tame — the human tongue. We’re told it is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Just as a venomous snake can strike quickly and leave its victim reeling in pain, so too can one hurtful word find its mark, pierce the soul and leave the victim racked with pain. Sometimes our hurtful words are intentional. We may plan them out or we may simply react out of our own hurt and pain, but as they leave our mouth, their intent is to hurt or retaliate. Sometimes our aim is not malicious, yet our words cause unintended pain. Regardless of our intent, we need to give careful thought to our speech before we allow it to leave our lips. Ask God for wisdom (James 1:5-8) and be slow to speak and get angry (James 1:19).
James goes on to let us know that it is simply foolish to think that it’s fine for both blessings and cursings to come from the same place. A spring can produce both fresh and salt water. A tree cannot bear both olives and figs. And the tongue which God has given us for His glory should not be used to tear asunder the body of Christ.
Great damage can be done by the tongue, however great things immeasurable can come from it as well. Go to God for wisdom so that, by his grace, that wild thing might be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit.