In verse 6 James gives us an explicate description of what the tongue, which is set among our members, looks like when it is ungoverned by the by God’s grace. James says that “the tongue is a fire.” As we have already seen our speech, no matter how insignificant it may seem, can have a disastrous outcome. James goes on to say that the tongue is “the very world of iniquity.” Within this context “world” is not referring to the entire earth, but rather the realm of iniquity. It is a system of iniquity, lawlessness, evil, and all kinds of sin. This word, iniquity, literally means not-righteous. It is a disregard for what is right. To have iniquity is to have sin; it is to be a lawbreaker. This iniquity is not something to take lightly because God does not take it lightly. In Exodus 34:6-7 God described himself to Moses and here is what he said:Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB95):
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”In His own self-description God revealed to Moses that He would not “leave the guilty unpunished.” Here we see that iniquity is so reviling to God and powerfully destructive, that the results of iniquity will be felt for generations to come. Here is something scary to think about; the decision that you are making right now will have an affect on your children (maybe even your grandchildren). It takes years for a forest to grow back after a wildfire, and the iniquity that you commit with your tongue can be just as devastating.
Thankfully in this same self-description of God we see that He “forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.” But this is no simple task since God leaves no guilt unpunished. He had to punish our sins. Isaiah picks up on this very theme in Isaiah 53:4-7.
Isaiah 53:3-7 (NASB95):
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
Isn’t it interesting that while he was taking on the burden of our sins, which we commit with our tongue more often than not, he did not open His mouth? If we would use our tongues, as Paul put it in Romans 10:9-10, to confess Jesus as Lord then through this substitutionary work of Christ we will be saved.