The tongue really is you, it really is. The tongue is a tattletale, and it tells on the heart. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The tongue is the revealer of the heart. “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (Col. 3:8-10) The new man in Christ has a new mouth, has a new tongue, new speech.
In Psalm 5:9, David knew the hearts of his enemies. “My enemies cannot speak a truthful word. Their deepest desire is to destroy others. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.” “Open grave” expresses the corruption of the heart. The tongue is a deadly arrow (Ps 64:3). Nowhere is the union of faith and works more visible than in your speech and my speech. James says your tongue itself will take your spiritual temperature. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-39)
When the apostle Paul characterizes the fallenness of man, when he wants to design all the ugly features of man’s depravity, and when he wants to describe the wretchedness of man in his sinful condition, he hones right in on the tongue. And in Romans, chapter 3, very familiar words, in verse 13, he says this is how you describe a sinner: “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies. Snake venom drips from their lips.” The focal point of our fallenness and depravity is the mouth.
So the mouth is the monitor on the human condition. Right words, then, would be the manifestation of a righteous life. That’s what James is saying. And so, in chapter 3, he calls us to measure our speech, to see if it is consistent with what we claim to be the reality of our faith. Controlling the tongue, then, is essential and James gives us compelling reasons to control our tongues.
- James calls us to control the tongue because its potential to condemn is so great. “If any man among you seems to be religious, but bridles not his tongue, he deceives his own heart, the man’s religion is useless.” (James 1:26) A faith which does not transform the tongue is no saving faith at all. The Bible refers directly or indirectly to a wicked tongue, a deceitful tongue, a lying tongue, a perverse tongue, a filthy tongue, a corrupt tongue, a bitter tongue, an angry tongue, a crafty tongue, a flattering tongue, a slanderous tongue, a gossiping tongue, a back-biting tongue, a blaspheming tongue, a foolish tongue, a boasting tongue, a murmuring tongue, a complaining tongue, a cursing tongue, a contentious tongue, a sensual tongue, a vile tongue, a tale-bearing tongue, a whispering tongue, and an exaggerating tongue. Nothing is more representative of man’s sinfulness than his mouth, and there is no easier way to sin than with your mouth. “A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, brings forth good things: an evil man, out of the evil treasure, brings forth evil things. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) A man’s heart is the storehouse, and his words indicate what is stored there. “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2) If a person can master his tongue, he can master his evil tendencies throughout his whole body, and that means his person. If the Holy Spirit gets control of the most volatile and the most potent member, the rest will be subdued.
- James says control your tongue because of its power to control you. Speak only gracious words, kind words, loving words, true words, thoughtful words, holy words, sensitive words, edifying words. Speak only gentle words, comforting words, words of blessing, words of humility, words of wisdom, words of thanksgiving. Speak only unselfish words, and peaceful words, and if you do that, you’ll control every other part of your life, because the only way you can do all of that is being under the power of the Spirit of God. But the focal point is to concentrate on the control of your tongue. Your tongue is like a master switch. One commentator writes, “If our tongue were so well under control that it refused to formulate the words of self-pity, the images of lustfulness, the thoughts of anger and resentment, then these things are cut down before they have a chance to live. The master switch has deprived them of any power to switch on that side of our lives. The control of the tongue is more than an evidence of spiritual maturity; it is also the means to it.”
- James says we must control our tongue because of it’s peril to corrupt. The tongue dominates a person, and is the key to their behavior; and because of its power to control, it must be controlled. Now he shows that the tongue because of its power to control is a tremendously dangerous thing. “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth of great things: behold, how great a thing a little fire kindleth.” (James 3:5) It has a fearful potency for destruction. You can take one little tiny flame and set a whole city burning to the ground. Fire has an amazing capacity. Water cannot multiply. If you have a cup of water and you pour it out, it won’t become a flood. It can’t. But if you have a match, you can light a forest fire or burn down a whole city, because fire has a way of multiplying. Don’t be fuel for anybody’s fire. Don’t be the wood or the coal that keep the fire going. “And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:6)
- James says to control your tongue because of its primitiveness to combat. It is primitive, wild, untamed, it is savage, uncivilized, undisciplined, irrepressible, irresponsible, and the tongue will combat every effort to control it. “For every species of beast, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7-8) James doesn’t say it can’t be tamed; he says man can’t tame it. Who can tame it? God can, by His power.
- We need to control our tongue for its perfidy to compromise – the tongue is a hypocrite. And the most wonderful function of the tongue is to bless God. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10) There is the duplicity. There is the hypocrisy. There is the perfidy of the tongue, its treachery. The same tongue that blesses God, curses those made in His image, slanders them, criticizes them, accuses them, abuses them, in anger, and jealousy, and envy, and hatred, and bitterness. To curse means to wish evil on someone, and man is made in the likeness of God. It is, by the way, an indestructible likeness. “My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:12) That is a conclusion. He is saying a clean heart, a fresh heart, can’t produce bitter water, and a bitter heart can’t produce fresh water. So the taste of the product tells the nature of its source, right? So he’s right back to where he started. True believers will be revealed in their speech. And if you’re a true believer, it should be able to be seen by your speech, it will be seen by your speech.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:43-45)
Wisdom shows itself in wise speech. God holds us responsible for the results of our destructive words. The wisdom of God that helps control the tongue, can help control all of our actions. Accepting God’s wisdom will affect your speech. Your words will convey true humility and lead to peace. Think before you speak and allow God to give you self control.