The Tongue: A Restless Evil
It would be hard to find in Scripture a diatribe against another member of the body as harsh as this one which James provides against the tongue. And we know that his words are true; we know it from our own lives. How many times have we slandered others? And even if it weren’t slander, it need not have been said. In the heat of passion, we have ripped others to shreds. After all, they hurt us; it was our turn to share our feelings. We wince now when we remember those words, and dearly wish we would never have said them. But we can’t take them back; we can only ask forgiveness.
James’ first words about the tongue set the stage: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” Indeed, one little word can cause passions to rise unchecked. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness!” James shows us here how utterly wicked the tongue can be and in so many ways: boasts, curses, dirty jokes, lies, slanders, curse words, name-calling, threats, demeaning others, empty or just plain stupid remarks—there is literally no end to the evil the tongue can circulate in one hour! And because of this, it stains not only the mouth but the whole body of the speaker and his whole course of life. It is truly the most fearful member of our body.
James goes on comparing it to animals that man has tamed. Yet, he tells us that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” And what is the most despicable trait of the tongue? Its insincere, hypocritical, duplicitous, and deceitful ability to bless and curse all at the same time; specifically, to bless God and curse those made in His image. James can only say, “My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
Proverbs says much about the tongue but Ecclesiastes hits the mark: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools…Let your words be few” (5:1-3). I said it yesterday, we talk too much. We think we have something to say when we are only displaying our desire for attention. We desire to bless (and should bless), but we should not pour empty praise on poor behavior or offer tired clichés to people in pain. The weather will neither hear nor care for our critique, nor will your listeners. Ours is a day that fears silence; indeed, hates it. Let us stop talking and start listening—not to the nearest blabber mouth but to the Lord our God and His word. And let us learn to meditate—a lost art—and learn to guard this most violent member we have—for the gospel’s sake.