My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
HOW THE LITTLEST MEMBER CAUSES EITHER OUR BIGGEST PROBLEMS OR GOD’S GREATEST GLORY OR BOTH … Let me summarize where I’ve been in this passage for a moment, for the sake of my own mind’s clarity: 1. ) The tongue itself is like a ship’s rudder or a bit in a horse’s mouth; the words that come off of it steer me in a certain direction. 2.) The tongue is also untamable, a poisonous beast, and a fire. It has the power to destroy, to kill. And finally, what I will reflect on today: 3.) the tongue is hypocritical — it blesses and curses, and it is like a spring that sends forth salt water and fresh water, or a fig tree that bears olives.
As you can read about in earlier posts, God has used these various illustrations to draw me deeper into my understanding of our words and their expression. I feel that the “steering” capacity of words is great to orient us toward either the flesh, or Christ. But that is just on the superficial level. There is something working behind these words, which comes from our minds, to fill these words with meaning. And deeper yet, there is a heart working behind the scenes of our own consciousness to fill our minds and thus express our words. The heart, then, is the origin of our words — And Jesus says so Himself: “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks“ (Luke 6:45, Matt. 12:34). And again, in a different and more revealing way, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matt. 15:18).
Think about a car. There is a steering wheel and the movement of that steering wheel has HUGE implications. Who, besides myself, has ever nearly veered off the road while trying to bend over and pick up dropped Peanut M&Ms from the floor of the passenger seat? Just the slightest change in direction can cause some serious problems for you and everyone else on the road.
But it takes pushing on the gas to make the steering wheel a steering wheel. Otherwise it is just a wheel and the same motion that makes it deadly at 80 mph has no effect at all. The speed is what gives the steering wheel power.
And who pushes on the gas pedal to make the car speed? The driver! With no driver, the gas does not make the car move, and the steering wheel continues to be indifferent. With no driver, a car has no power.
So, without a heart, the tongue has no power. The heart informs the mind, the mind expresses the words; the tongue obeys the mind which obeys the heart. Think about this royal chain of command going on inside of ourselves at all times!
There’s only one problem, though: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
So … to bring it back to the car metaphor, it is like we are cars speeding on the highway with a blindfolded driver.
The idea of having a spring that sends forth both fresh water and salt water, or a fig tree that bears olives and a grapevine that bears figs, I think, is used to illustrate that it is impossible for us to be followers of Jesus and not follow Jesus. Seems obvious, but I think bold words are important because WE CAN’T BE SURE THAT WE LOVE GOD IF WE ARE ONLY RELYING ON WHAT OUR HEARTS ARE TELLING US. Our hearts are deceitful! We are blindfolded drivers! A blindfolded driver that is very familiar with a certain road or stretch of highway may actually stay on the road for a good while before crashing; but inevitably, he will crash. He is a hypocrite in the truest sense of the word: a masked actor, recklessly portraying himself to be something he is not.
There are many more words that can be pondered, written, read, and discussed on these verses from James, but instead, I am going to say just one more thing: If I am wondering what my heart looks like, I need only to look as far as my words. I may not speak all of them out loud, but I sure know the ones that are right there on the edge, ready to tip off into the abyss of evil in the world. And I sure know the ones that swim around in my mind, swirling and crashing in the growing waves of a great storm.
And if I am truly curious as to what my heart looks like, all it takes is a moment’s reflection on the words at my fingertips on this screen; the words on my lips toward my children, my husband, my neighbor, my prayers; the words in my mind, narrating my days and spinning the steering wheel of my tongue casually with a single palm.
If I really want to know what God sees when He looks at my heart, I must only go as far as the last time I attempted to bless His name with the same tongue, the same mind, the same heart I used to curse a man, a man made in His similitude, no less, and I will see clearly what kind of heart I have.
Moral of the story: It is impossible to follow Jesus without Jesus. He must be the prize we seek, the guide we accept for the journey to that prize, and the work He has already done must be the thing we remember to keep us pressing on. We must cast our own hearts aside, those desperately wicked and reckless drivers, and we must will our wills to hop on board the safe train that will never crash.
In conclusion of this exciting three part series (re: sarcasm), the same tongue that most often creates our biggest problems also happens brings God’s greatest glory: our salvation in Jesus Christ. The Word says that Jesus suffered the cross, despising the shame of it, “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). That joy is me, is you. That joy is our salvation. That joy is found in the blindness of our hearts, the untamable fires of our minds, the recklessness of our words. That joy is our failure, our misery. That joy is found in our hypocrisy, our eager dedication and promise to follow God and then our inevitable wandering off, our forsaking of truth, our selling out for a cheaper, more immediate result. That joy is all the evil and deceit and sinfulness within us that makes His sacrifice worthwhile.