Power of the tongue
Today, we continue our journey through the Book of James in our series, Real Radical. James was writing to a church undergoing real persecution, and he encouraged them that the way to make it through while pleasing God was to get real radical with their faith. In the midst of their persecution, it seemed the Church was imploding with complaining, criticising, gossip, and much more.
In Chapter 3, James highlighted that words have more power than we understand both naturally and spiritually.
The reality is that in the beginning, God spoke, and all things came into being: God said ... and it was so ... God called ... and it was good ... Then God blessed ... . Genesis 1:3, 7, 10, 28 (NIV). It was through verbal activity that God literally decreed our world into existence. And then God created us in His image. We carry some of the characteristics of God. So for example, man named the animals, i.e., called them what we know them as today.
It's interesting that even persons who don't believe in God support this idea of words having power. Buddhist monks, Jewish mystics and motivational speakers encourage the use of positive words for building us up.
So how does God respond to our words? James provides us with three observations about this.
"Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are ... steered by a very small rudder ... . Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts." James 3:4-5 (NIV). This verse states a powerful truth: Our speech affects every part of our being and impacts others. Control what we say and how we say it, and it controls the rest of us.
The power of speech is one of the greatest powers God has given us. With the tongue, man can praise God, pray, preach the Word and lead the lost to Christ. But with the same tongue, this same person can ruin a person's reputation or break a heart.
The tongue's problem
James says: "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." James 3:5-6 (NIV). James now starts getting down into the meat of things by highlighting two areas:
1. The tongue is hostile: It is our nature to use the tongue to hurt. We need to realise this because we are not only harming the other person, but we are harming ourselves in the process. The enemy uses our words to accuse us before God. We need to control our tongues but it needs a discipline and help beyond ourselves.
"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." Luke 6:45 (NIV). Although the tongue is hostile, it only uses the raw material it is fed. Change the raw material and you can start to change what the tongue speaks.
2. We need to control our tongue: As we walk with God, we learn to talk godly and be godly! Though you cannot win the battle for the tongue in your own strength, God can give you victory over your tongue. When the tongue is surrendered to God for His use, He will give us the ability to control it and use it for His glory.
"The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit." Proverbs 15:4 (NIV).
Learning to handle your tongue can have some of the best effects on your life, but it requires disciple and training. James now concludes this section by speaking about:
The tongue's paradox
As we grow in the Lord, we have to ensure that we hold the ground that we have achieved. Our growth needs to be continuous and forward. If we don't do it, our lives can present the paradox or contradiction that James speaks about.
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." James 3:9-12 (NIV). James says that this is an inconsistent life and is challenging those who are inconsistent.
The tongue can be the most destructive weapon on earth; its misuse has damaged more lives than all the weapons of war or disease on this planet! But the tongue can also bring some of life's greatest joys, like someone telling you that they love you; or it can bring some of life's greatest pains like someone telling you they "hate you"! Get real radical and commit to let your tongue be an instrument for building others up and not a weapon of destruction.