3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. ~ James 3:3-6
In this letter, James, one of the four half brothers of the Lord Jesus, reveals to us avenues through which we can discover if our faith in the God of the Bible is maturing. The first two chapters cover growth through trials and temptations by replacing our faulty ways of thinking and living with the teaching from God's word. In the third chapter, James directs our attention to the way we speak. His goal is to get us to be controlled by the word of God like a rider controls a horse by the use of a bit. As a result of being defined by God's word, we will be able to control the way we speak to and about others. And, once we gain control over our mouths, our lives, as a whole, will be useful for God's purposes.
In v.4 of today's text we read, "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. "
Considering this illustration of a large ship which is steered by a small rudder, we learn that if we can just get control of the little tongue, we can have tremendous impact on others for the glory of God. In the same way that a large ship is controlled by a small rudder, when the power of God's word is applied to our speech, we will help others and bring glory to God. We must be diligent to control our words because our words have the power to control us. Learning to speak only gracious words is a titanic order. When we speak only gracious words that are selfless, we will be better positioned to control other parts of our lives. We will only be able to do this by yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of God.
In v.5 of today's text we read, "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 is a powerful instrument. Some have suggested that it is the strongest muscle in the human body due to its tenacity which comes from the way it is built. The tongue doesn’t fatigue, because there’s a lot of redundancy in the muscle architecture. The tongue can tear down or it can build up. The tongue is like the tiniest spark of a flame that leaps into the largest of flames. Our words are potentially edifying or destructive.
A few years ago, I came a cross a poem by Charles Franklin Benvegar which goes like this ...
"As I watched them tear a building down, a gang of men in a busy town, with a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell, they swung a beam and the side wall fell.
I asked the foreman, 'are these men skilled, and the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?' He gave a laugh and said, 'No, indeed, just common labor is all I need. I can easily wreck in a day or two, what builders have taken years to do.'
And I thought to myself, as I went my way, 'Which of these roles have I tried to play', am I a builder who works with care, measuring life by rule and square? Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan, patiently doing the best I can?'
'Or am I a wrecker who walks to town, content with the labor of tearing down? O Lord let my life and my labors be that which will build for eternity!'"
In v.6 of today's passage we read, "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."
Slander or gossip occurs when someone shares something about someone else that is not factual, or perhaps partially true, but results in damaging the individual’s reputation. The fruit of slander is that it damages the perception of another individual in the mind of one or more people. The fruit of slander is not sweet and it never glorifies God.
The word James used here for "hell" is gehenna. This word is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word "ge-hinnom," meaning "Valley of the sons of Hinnom." This valley south of Jerusalem was where some of the ancient Israelites sacrificed their children to the Canaanite god, Molech. Years later, Gehenna was made an unclean place used for burning trash from the city of Jerusalem. It was the Lord Jesus who first used Gehenna as an illustration of hell.
When we slander or gossip, we play right into the very deviant plan of the Devil himself. When we speak slanderous words, we set a fire that serves the purposes of hell itself. And, although, these fires will never truly threaten the advancement of the kingdom of God, souls are often caught in the cross fire. And, if we are not careful, we will encourage others to go the way of the enemy.