Have you ever said something and instantly wished you hadn’t? Or have you wished you had said something in a critical moment, but were silent instead? I still cringe when I remember a harsh response I once gave my mother when I was a teenager. My angry and hurtful words haunt me to this day, and even though I know I was forgiven, I regret ever saying those things to her in a moment of immature anger. How about you?
Our inability to control our tongues in moments of anger, disruption, surprise, and plain old normal, every day life has been part of our story from the beginning of time. Even the most articulate among us has feelings of regret over words that were spoken too hastily in the heat of a moment.
James made the case that making mistakes with words signals a lack of maturity. We understand this to mean that a truly mature person has learned to control what comes out of their mouth. Do you agree?
James 3 (Common English Bible)
3 My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. 2 We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. 3 When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies.
Sometimes it takes enormous self-control to shut up in a moment of offense or outrage. Sometimes our response might even be justified, given the circumstance…but is it wise to just mindlessly spew?
James’ answer was no:
4 Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. 5 In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly.
Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. 6 The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.
What James is suggesting is that controlling the tongue is a matter of considering the long term ramifications of what you are about to say. Is it helpful? Is it kind? Is it well thought-out? Is it instructive? Is it necessary? An unconsidered word is like a small spark in a dry forest. Before you know it, a forest fire can ignite and you might be dealing with the consequences of those words for years to come.
7 People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. 8 No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!
And this is the crux of the matter. Can you bless God and curse God’s children with the same mouth? Can you claim to love Jesus and not love all of the people whom Jesus loves? All of humanity is made in God’s likeness. When we condemn entire groups of people for simply being different, we condemn ourselves as immature people who can’t control their restless, evil tongues. As James said, “It just shouldn’t be this way!”
11 Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not, and fresh water doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either.
If you love God, your words must reflect a love for God’s children…all of them. Your “spring of fresh water” is a reflection of the deep well of living water that is Jesus within you. Jesus loves unconditionally. When you became a part of him, you became a part of all that he loves.
Consider your words. Is God calling you to tame your tongue?