And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. (James 3:6)
In today’s scripture reading, we are reminded once again of the very practical nature of the epistle of James. In the first chapter, James encouraged his readers to be careful to practice the word of God rather than to just hear it. The word of God is a mirror that reveals the blemishes in our character. If we hear and do not practice, we are like a person that looks into a mirror, sees what needs to be adjusted to make him presentable, but then walks away as if he hasn’t seen anything at all. This illustration is very simple and yet it is one that we can easily identify with. It makes sense because each of us has experienced looking into a mirror and primping to make sure we look our best.
Likewise, the third chapter of James rings a familiar tone as James teaches concerning the use of our tongue. Each of us is very experienced in the trouble that is caused by opening our mouths when they are better kept shut. We have the capability with speech to be a great encouragement to people. We have opportunity to bless people with our words especially when we give them the gospel and teach them the truths of the Bible. However, it is not natural for people to speak good things because our speech is the product of a sinful heart.
If you think about what happened to Adam immediately after he ate the forbidden fruit, you will better understand how the fallen heart is prone to speak evil of others. When God spoke to Adam about his sin, the first thought for Adam was to slander Eve: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat.” Since that time, it has been much easier for us to speak evil of others. Adam could have defended Eve and told God in her moment of weakness she succumbed to the temptation of the serpent. He could have said, “I should have been there to protect her, so you can blame me.” Instead, he threw Eve under the bus in order to deflect the blame.
Adam’s bad reaction came after the first sin. At this point, he was certainly not used to sin, although with his first excuse he committed another one. Now, after all these thousands of years, we have perfected the art of sinning, and our evil speaking naturally flows like a gushing stream from an overflowing reservoir of corruption. Our tongues are a world of iniquity; they are a fire that has the potential to burn and destroy everyone around us. You have experienced it; you know it—James has nailed you just as he has me.
William MacDonald has a humorous illustration of how quickly the fire of evil speaking burns. He writes: “The manner in which the flame of evil-speaking spreads is illustrated by the conversation between two women in Brooklyn. One said, ‘Tillie told me that you told her that secret I told you not to tell her.’ The other replied, ‘She’s a mean thing. I told Tillie not to tell you I told her.’ The first speaker responded, ‘Well, I told Tillie I wouldn’t tell you she told me—so don’t tell her I did.’”
The point of James’ discourse in the third chapter is to show us how diligent we must be to stop what comes so naturally. Those that are washed clean in the blood of Christ have the capability through the Holy Spirit to control their evil impulses that cause them to speak ill of others. They have clean hearts so they can switch the use of their tongues from evil to those blessed, sweet words of the gospel that are uplifting and encouraging.
Before you open your mouth, think carefully about what you are going to say. Stay away from subjects that will demean others and are hurtful. Once those words have left your tongue, there is no way to reverse them and make them unheard. Once you hit the send button, it’s too late!
Pastor V. Mark Smith