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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A Personal Reading Journey

This post will vary from my normal format of trying to spend as much time in the text of God’s word as possible. I simply wanted to share a few observations from a recent experience. Rest assured, future posts will return to my normal content.

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, we lived near a library. In the summer I would make many trips and read many books. I could read for hours at a time.

At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to return to taking some time for reading. So, I went to the nearby library and checked out some books. But, before I got started a thought dawned on me. I had never read the Bible. Now, obviously I have read parts of it and probably at one point or another have read all of it. But, I had never sat down with the goal in mind of reading through the Bible like I read through a novel. When I get into a novel, I read it every chance I get. I may not put it down for hours. I may read late into the night. But, I had never attempted to read through the Bible with that kind of passion and intensity.

So, I decided to set aside the books I had checked out of the library and read only my Bible. I then decided to take all but one of the games off my phone. I was trying to remove as many distractions as possible. I also determined that all those times that I would normally just surf the net or play games I would turn into opportunities to read the Bible.

I surprised myself with what I accomplished. I finished reading the New Testament in 19 days. Then, I completed the Old Testament in the next 70 days. So, all total, I completed reading the entire Bible in about 90 days. This was an amazing experience for me. I want to share a few personal observations.

  • The Bible is an amazing and powerful story to read

This may seem like a simple observation, but reading the Bible in such  a short period of time was a totally unique experience for me. Reading the four gospels one right after another helped to unify the stories told in several of the gospels. Hearing the teachings of Jesus over and over through the gospels reinforced the messages Jesus taught to his disciples and others of His day. These are messages and life lessons that we still need to learn and apply today. Picturing the events of Him as He was betrayed and crucified in each of the four gospels was powerful. To think that God in human form submitted Himself to die for our sins is an amazing story.  Then to read the book Acts and see the faith of the apostles after the events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension put an interesting perspective on the events of the early church. Reading the letters to churches immediately after hearing the stories of the early church made it easier to think about the new faith of the Christians to whom the letters were written. The images of Paul’s persecution in his preaching journeys was fresh in mind as I listened to the letters he wrote to these Christians whose faith was being challenged both from within and without.

The story of the Old Testament and God’s people prior to the time of Christ was also quite interesting. People often describe God as a God of wrath and vengeance in the Old Testament. But when I read through the whole story what stood out to me is that God has always been a patient and gracious God. He has always wanted people to have time, opportunity, and the will to change. Only when He had exhausted every attempt to change their hearts did He finally bring devastating judgement on those who simply refused to serve and honor Him.

  • Our prayers should be better

I was impressed with frequency with which prayers are recorded in the Bible When we think about prayers in the Bible we often think primarily about the book of Psalms, but there are prayers recorded in many books of the Bible: prayers of kings, prayers of prophets, prayers of priests, prayers of ordinary people, prayers of men, prayers of women.

I was also impressed with the nature of the prayers. So many times our prayers are treated more like an interference in our lives and we just want to rush through them and get back to our lives. The prayers in the Bible are expressive of praise, honor, and glory to God. Many of the prayers are lengthy. Jesus was said to have spent all night in prayer. Many of the them do nothing but praise God. Often prayers are prayers of repentance, but not merely generic (“forgive me if I sinned”) prayers of forgiveness, but expressions of specific guilt and deep regret. And the prayers of thanksgiving are often lengthy and descriptive in thanking God for the riches of his grace.

  • Reading is not studying

While we certainly need to read, there were many places where I want to go back and dig deeper. The Bible is so full of information that one simple read through will not begin to scratch the surface of the rich treasures of knowledge stored in its pages. This experience has rekindled my desire to get back into God’s Book, study further, and have a better understanding of what He is trying to tell us. There is a reason He recorded and preserved these messages.

  • Just reading caused me to think about some behaviors

As I read the story of God’s people and His desire for them to be righteous, I could not help but think about some of my own actions that might not be in line with that. How can I read God’s word and then turn around and watch and support TV and movies that clearly undermine the principles of God’s word and His righteousness? How can I try to fill my mind with the messages of His Word and then listen to music that glorifies lifestyles and attitudes that are so contrary to what He is telling me through these stories?

  • I could read more and do better

While I am thrilled about having the opportunity to read God’s word in such a short period of time, I also know I fell short at times and didn’t always use time wisely during this stretch. I pray that this experience will only spur me to read more, study more, and learn more because there is no more important task in our lives than to understand and apply God’s word in every aspect of our life.

Dan Fontenot