The Tongue Is A Fire, A World Of Iniquity

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. – James 3:2-12 NKJV

Let’s consider some things that James has to say about the tongue and speech throughout the book of James:

  • The mouth should be used to ask God for wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” {James 1:5-6 NKJV}
  • The mouth should not be used to blame God for our temptations: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” {James 1:13 NKJV}
  • Like anger, the mouth should be controlled and kept in check: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;” {James 1:19 NKJV}
  • “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion [is] useless.” {James 1:26 NKJV}
  • We must remember that we will be judged for what we say: “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” {James 2:12 NKJV}
  • Saying you have faith is not enough. Words must be accompanied with action: “What [does it] profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? … But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” {James 2:14, 18 NKJV}
  • Ability to control the tongue reflects a high level of self-control: “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.” {James 3:2 NKJV}
  • The tongue, though small, can do a great deal of damage: “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.” {James 3:5-6 NKJV}
  • The tongue is extremely difficult to control: “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.” {James 3:7-8 NKJV}
  • It is wrong to praise God and speak ugly to men: “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.” {James 3:9-12 NKJV}
  • We often lack because we either fail to ask or ask out of selfish motives: “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.” {James 4:2-3 NKJV}
  • We should not boast in arrogance about the future without acknowledging God’s will: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what [will happen] tomorrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you [ought] to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” {James 4:13-16 NKJV}
  • “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” {James 5:9 NKJV}
  • We should speak with honesty and integrity: “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and [your] ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.” {James 5:12 NKJV}
  • We should use our tongues for prayer and praise: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” {James 5:13 NKJV}
  • We should use our tongues to confess our sins and pray for one another: “Confess [your] trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” {James 5:16 NKJV}

As we examine ourselves and our relationship with God, let us make sure we examine how we use our mouths and whether we are glorifying God with our tongues.

Dan Fontenot
(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

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