…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…no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3 (NIV)
Just this last summer, at least 17 wildfires ravaged California. One of the largest, the Carr fire, became so powerful it formed a so-called “fire vortex,” or fire tornado, and even governed its own weather system. The fire was set ablaze when a tire rim scraped against pavement, sending sparks flying into a nearby bush. Emblazoned, the fire took flight along the highway and was multiplied exponentially by the dry California winds. All told, the Carr fire left in its hungry wake, nearly 230,000 acres of land burned, almost 2,800 buildings destroyed, and at least 8 people dead, including firefighters. It took 456 firefighters 44 days to contain the fire started by a spark.
James likens our tongues to sparks setting a great forest on fire. He says that though it is a “small part of the body,” yet, it has the power to “corrupt the whole body,” and “sets the whole course of one’s life on fire.” The tongue is representative of our speech. Note in this passage the harm our speech can do! And while it is most troubling to consider that this small organ is “a world of evil among the parts of the body,” we might just want to dispose of the thing when we see that James further observes, “no man can tame the tongue.”
If we cannot tame our tongues, is there any hope, after all? Are there any viable solutions—duct tape, excluded? Well, let’s get to the “heart” of the matter, for, in reality, that is where the crisis of the tongue originates–in the heart. Jesus warns us that the words coming out of our mouths find their source in our very hearts.
‘…the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man…’ (Matthew 5)
What’s in YOUR Heart?
Have you examined your heart lately? Your speech is a good indicator of what’s being stored up in there. So, what do you talk about? Weigh your words against the verses below—these are merely a few:
- “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6) Is your speech gracious? Do you know how to respond to each person?
- “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) Are your words edifying? Is there anything unwholesome coming out of your mouth?
- “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19) Do you talk too much?
- “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, But perversion in it crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4) Are you crushing spirits with your words?
- “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” (Proverbs 15:28) Do you think before you speak?
- “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.” (Proverbs 17:9) Do you pray or do you gossip?
- “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23) Are you careful to protect your soul by limiting what comes out of your mouth?
- “For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.” (Proverbs 26:20) Are you contentious with your words or are you a peacemaker?
- “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26) Do wisdom and kindness characterize your words?
- “Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psalm 31:26) Are you trustworthy in your speech?
- “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, But the mouth of the upright will deliver them.” (Proverbs 12:6) Are you seeking opportunities to bless with your words—or curse?
- “Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble.” (Proverbs 12:13) Have you lied or have you been true?
- “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) Do you diffuse arguments or do your words contribute to anger?
Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires
With reference to our tongues, this is simply not true. Recall what James said—no man can tame the tongue—not me, not you. Let this verse remind you that we must (and we absolutely can) depend on God alone to tame our tongues! Prayer is an outpouring of that dependence! It is a resource for believers that is greater than ourselves! We do have hope for change in our hearts and subsequently our speech! It’s as simple as prayer, accountability, and Scripture. Psalm 19:14 addresses both our hearts and our speech in prayer, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
Does your heart teem with gratitude for all you have in Christ? That is what you want to overflow from the recesses of your heart, spilling forth from your mouth! Listen to the words of the psalmist, “Let my lips utter praise, For You teach me Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:171) God is good—remember that before a word leaves your mouth!
Our guest blogger is Svea Goertzen, who is, first and foremost, a follower of Jesus Christ. She is, additionally, a happy wife and mother of two beautiful teenage daughters.