Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Provs. 18:21) Nobody has ever yet been able to measure the power of this small mouth member. Man has harnessed energy and with a button can detonate bombs, yet he has not learned to control the tongue. The courses of great ships on the seas and equally great air ships are controlled by tiny computer chips, but this tiny member of the mouth is still by and large untamable.
A Japanese proverb says it well: “A tongue three inches long can kill a man six feet tall.” Another sage said, “The most ferocious monster in the world has his den just behind my teeth.” Another journalist spoke wisely when advising: “If your lips would keep from slips, four things you must observe with care: to whom you speak, of whom you speak and how and when and where.”
King David weighed in: “I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle.” (Ps. 39:1) Job spoke of being hid from the scourge of the tongue. The Psalmist said of the unrighteous that their throats were an open sepulcher and that with their tongue they flatter.
Peter, in the New Testament, admonishes that he who would love life and see good days should refrain his tongue from evil. Paul, the Apostle, indicts the human race in Romans saying that the tongue is an instrument of deceit: “The poison of asps is under their lips whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
And, in Proverbs there are multiple warnings: “A fool’s lips enter into contention and his mouth calleth for strokes…a fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” (18:6-8) And “In the multitude of words there wanteth no sin; but he that refraineth his lips is wise. The tongue of the just is as choice silver,” (10:19,20); and “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop, but a good word maketh is glad,” (12:25) and “He that hath knowledge spareth his words,” (17:27); and “seeth thou a man hasty in his words, there is more hope of a fool.” (29:20)
Of course, the classic scriptural dissertation on the believer’s speech is found in James, chapter three. In this treatise, the half-brother of Jesus, speaking to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” (1:1) teaches about the “perfect” man as being one who has mastered the discipline of not offending with the tongue. (v. 2) To be sure, “perfect” here as in most all other New Testament occurrences of this word means “mature,” or “in full bloom.” Not only is the mature believer one who has learned how to skillfully use God’s Word (Hebs. 5:11-14), he is able also to not offend by ill-spoken words and therefore able to “bridle the whole body.” These admirable traits are the ultimate levels of spiritual maturity to which every sincere follower of the Lord Jesus Christ strives.
Then, beginning in James 3:5, the writer turns his attention to specific problems that our tongues can be blamed for. First, an untamed tongue is a boaster of great things. (v.5) The boaster talks of what he has done, what he could do, what he will do and what he might do.
“A lion met a tiger, as they drew beside a pool. Said the tiger, ‘Tell me why you’re roaring like a fool.’ ‘That’s not foolish,’ said the lion, with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘They call me King of Beasts because I advertise.’ A rabbit heard them talking and ran home like a streak. He thot he’d try the lion’s plan, but his roar was just a squeak. A fox came to investigate, had luncheon in the woods. So, when you advertise, my friend, be sure you’ve got the goods!” (copied)
Next, James likens the tongue to a fire. (v.6) It is raging, destructive, unpredictable, uncontrollable and fueled perpetually. A lady justified the quick outbursts of her tongue by saying “It passes quickly,” to which Billy Sunday, the sawdust evangelist, replied, “So does a shot gun blast.”
James continues: It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison, i.e., the poison of gossip, slander, cursing, filthy speech and deceit. Sadly, this little member can both praise God and curse men, to which James affirms “these things ought not to be.”
A.T. Peirson was in George Mueller’s study and he glanced through the Bible that the renowned orphanage director had open on his desk, stopping at Ps. 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by Jehovah.” He noticed that in the margin Mueller had written, “And the stops.” So, if your tongue knows when to go and when to stop, the whole body will know when and what to do!
One final quip: “Says Gossip 1 to Gossip 2, while shopping in the town, ‘One Mr. Pry remarked to me, Smith bought his goods of Brown.’ Said Gossip 2 to Gossip 3, who cast his eyelids down, ‘I’ve heard it said today, my friend, Smith got his goods from Brown.’ Said Gossip 3 to Gossip 4 with something of a frown, ‘I’ve heard strange news, what do you think, Smith took his goods from Brown.’ Says Gossip 4 to Gossip 5, who blazed it round the town: ‘I’ve heard today such shocking news: ‘Smith stole his goods from Brown!’”
“My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall received the greater condemnation, for in many things we (all) offend.” (James 3:1,2a)