The Destructive Tongue

James 3:5bIntroduction:

In the previous verses James highlighted the power that the tongue can have over your life. In verse 2 we see that the proper use of the tongue is essential for spiritual maturity. In verses 3 and 4 James gives two illustration of the power of the tongue compared to the size of the tongue. In verse 5a James reminds his readers that men are prone to use the power of the tongue improperly, “boasting of great things.”
Did you know that the average person uses approximately 25,000 words every day? This is why controlling the tongue is so important. The question that we, as disciples of Jesus, need to be asking ourselves is does our speech fulfill God’s intended purpose for our lives? Going back to verse 5a we could ask ourselves the question how much of our speech reflects pride, and how much of our speech reflects a gospel-motivated humility? In Ephesians 4:29 the apostle Paul makes it clear that our speech either builds up or it corrupts. There is no middle ground. C.J. Mahaney defines corrupting talk as “any and all communication that deters growth in godliness; any speech that hinders the cultivation of godly relationships; [and] any words that have a deadening or dulling effect on the soul of another.” How many of your 25,000 words per day are corruptive?
This is exactly what James is talking about in James 3:5b-12. Here in these verses James’ focus is on the malicious and destructive nature of the tongue. James continues to use illustrations that highlight the small size of the tongue and the great power that it yields, however now the stress is on the often disastrous results produced by the tongue. Since the tongue has the ability to talk about anything, it has the ability to corrupt anything.
It is important, when studying this passage, to understand that James is describing the tongue as it is by nature, not what it can become through God’s grace. Apart from the grace of God our speech burns with the fire of hell, rebelling against God, and is double-minded in what it says. I don’t think that James would have agreed with “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

The Burning Tongue.

“A small fire can ignite an entire forest.”

Again James illustrates how something small can have a great impact. Here it is a small fire igniting a large forest. This illustration should be particularly pertinent to us here in Hillsborough county. It has not rained here in months days. This kind of weather is wonderful for recreation; however the danger of wildfires increases every day that there is no rain. In weather that is this dry it literally takes just one spark to set an entire forest ablaze. In the United States an average of 106,400 wildfires break out each year. 4,083,347 acres are consumed. Most of these fires are started unintentionally by people trying to enjoy the outdoors. 1995 there were 9,974 wildfires caused by lightning and 120,045 wildfires caused by human error. Most of these were started by careless mistakes. I know that I sound like “Smokey the Bear,” but I want to illustrate how an incidental small spark can have a destructive outcome. So to your speech may seem like a small thing, but it can have an amazingly destructive outcome.
Another thing that is interesting about James’ illustration of the forest fire is how easily the fire spreads. Fire is truly an amazing thing. Fire has the ability to continually reproduce itself as long as it has fuel to burn. Unfortunately for firefighters that water that is needed to extinguish the fire does not have this ability. When the planes drop water on top of a wildfire it never becomes a flood even though it is thousands of gallons of water. But, the wildfire that the firefighters are battling was ignited by a small spark. The fire only needs to be fed by oxygen and fuel to continue burning.

In Proverbs we see similar language with reference to our speech in 26:20-21.

Proverbs 26:20-21 (NASB95):
For lack of wood the fire goes out,
And where there is no whisperer,
contention quiets down.
Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
So
is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Here we see that our whispers (or gossip) fuel the evil fire that can come from our speech. The subject matter of our speech is like the dry underbrush that continues to fuel the wildfire. If we take away the fuel we will take away the fire.

*Sorry it has been so long since my last post. Blogger would not upload my posts.*

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