For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
Today’s passage speaks very specifically about our tongue and speech. It may seem odd for there to be a theology over a such a small part of the body however, in other sections of James the tongue is compared to the rudder of a ship. The rudder may be small but it sets the course for the entire ship. The tongue, what we say or our speech, serves as a window to what is happening in the heart or in our minds.
Our speech reveals a lot about us. It can reveal where we are from, our ethnicity, an education level or even the kind of things or people that we are normally surrounded by. Have you ever been to a foreign place or have been speaking to someone with an accent and found your own speech to adopt a similar accent? Having visited the Philippines in the past and spending time immersed in the language and culture I found this case to be true for myself. This development was unintentional.
Today’s passage speaks to the “mind of its own” character that the tongue has. No human being can tame the tongue. The tongue seems to speak and reflect what is inside of us, which is influenced by our surrounding, experience and intake. In this regard we do have control.
No, the tongue is not a character with whom you share headspace. The tongue is merely reflective of what you take in. Much the like the accent that you might unintentionally adopt we should surround ourselves in a climate of good speech, positive uplifting language and remove the negativity that we unintentionally absorb and reflect through our speech (set your minds to things above). Essentially, when you put good things in – good things come out. When you allow bad things in – bad things come out.
Obviously, there is some control over the way you speak to certain people and the words with which you choose to communicate. But, I’m certain we’ve all had the verbal faux pas, a slip of the tongue that we wish we could take back. There is an exercise among young elementary students where they are asked to squeeze out a tube of toothpaste. After doing so they are asked to put the toothpaste back into the tube, which of course, is a futile mission. The point being once our words are out of our mouths then there is no way to fully take them back. We can redact, apologize, or even say “just kidding” unfortunately, people’s ears are sharp and have great memory when it comes to negativity that we can spew.
Our witness is something we want to be careful of but, more importantly, we should be concerned over the integrity of our praise to God. James 3:10 says,
“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
Have you ever heard the question, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” It’s meant to point out the dissonance of character and speech when one uses their mouth in a foul manner versus the sweet nature of affection for mom. This kind of negativity shouldn’t be mixed into the heart of praise, worship and faith that we are commanded to live by.
This untamable quality of the tongue is a struggle for certain people. Not all may have as untamed a tongue as others do. So it is important to have a strong level of personal reflection when it comes to what you surrounded by. The best thing we can do with our tongues is to bless our Lord and Father. What have you been doing with your mouth?