By Don R. Hastings
In the first part of James 3, God revealed the tremendous power of the tongue. In James 3:7-12, God made known to us some outstanding evil characteristics of the tongue. We need to be aware of these characteristics and diligently guard our tongues to keep them from practicing these things (Prov. 13:3; 21:23). With David, we should pray and ask Jehovah to, “set a watch, O Jehovah, before my mouth; Keep the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). God has told us how to possess happiness (1 Pet. 3:10-12). Refraining one’s “tongue from evil” is essential to living a good life!
Studying James 3:7-12, we learn several evil characteristics of the tongue. An outstanding evil characteristic of the tongue is that it:
Cannot Be Tamed
God intended that man should “have dominion” over all animals when He created them (Gen. 1:27, 28; 9:1,2; Psa. 8:4-9). Man has used the animals of this earth for his benefit. He uses them for food, work and enjoyment. It is not wrong to kill and eat animals (Gen. 9:3; Acts 20:13).
Man can subdue and control animals, but he hasn’t learned to subdue and control his tongue. You cannot trust your tongue to always speak words which are good and proper. You cannot trust your tongue to the point that you unloose it and let it speak without first carefully considering what it will say. In an unguarded moment, it will say very cruel and ugly words.
Is A Restless Evil
Like a wild beast moving back and forth in its cage, seeking an opportunity to escape and mange its victim, so is the tongue. The evil that the tongue is capable of doing cannot be quenched and pacified to the extent that it ceases to desire to work its harm. That’s why it can’t be tamed!
Is Full Of Deadly Poison
We fear the rattlesnake, coral snake, etc., because they possess deadly poison. If you live in Florida long, as I have, you probably have many snake stories to share. I am no exception, as I have had many close calls, being the outdoors man that I am.
We fear a bottle with the picture of a skull and crossbones on it, and the word “poison” written on it. If you were to walk into a room and your little child was holding such a bottle with the cap off, a feeling of horror would come over you. I am sure my mother and father had the same feeling the time I was two years old and swallowed roach tablets. I assured my mother, on the way to the hospital, “I not die. I not a roach.” But, my reasoning didn’t calm her at the time.
We should greatly fear the improper use of the tongue for it can kill physically and spiritually (Prov. 18:21). People, who gossip and slander, are like slithering snakes carrying a sac of poison, ready and eager to strike and inject the poison (Psa. 58:4; 140:3; Mt. 3:7). Guy N. Woods put it this way,” Those who would shrink in horror from the thought of plunging a sword into the heart of another will, nevertheless, indulge in malicious gossip that drives a sword through the heart in a manner far more painful than any possible physical injury” (New Testament Commentaries: James, Guy N. Woods, p. 168).
Do your words ever kill good intentions, good will, initiative, hope, good morale, good reputations, or spiritual-mindedness? The person who said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” – lied.
Is Often Used Inconsistently
Christians should use their tongues for the most noble use of all and, that is, to praise, glorify and bless the Lord. The Christian’s tongue may also be used for an evil purpose – cursing men.
What a great, inconsistent and unholy use of our tongues. William Barclay writes, “Many a man speaks with perfect courtesy to strangers and even preaches love and gentleness, and yet snaps with ungracious and impatient anger and irritability at his own family at home. It has not been unknown for a man to speak with piety on Sunday and to curse a squad of workmen on Monday. It has not been unknown for a man to utter the most pious sentiments one day, and to repeat the most questionable stories the next. It has not been unknown a woman to speak with sweet graciousness at a religious meeting, and then to go outside to murder someone’s repetition with a malicious and a gossiping tongue” (The Letters of James and Peter, William Barclay, p. 105).
Man is “made after the likeness of God” (Gen. 1:26, 27). The person who despises a human-being despises God (1 Jn. 4:20,21). How we treat our fellow man is how we are treating the Lord (Mt. 25:24-36; Acts 9:5). The person who blesses God but curses man is a hypocrite (Psa. 62:4)!
How can we curse mankind: Who are God’s handiwork? Whom God loves (Jn. 3:16)? For whom Christ died (Heb. 2:9)? Whom God desires to save (1 Tim. 2:3,4)?
If we think that God is going to be pleased with the honor we give Him with our lips, while we speak vile, filthy, hateful words about and to others, we are deceived! Christians required by God to bless those who “persecute you” (Rom. 12:14). We are not to return evil for evil (Rom. 12:17, 21). If we curse those who curse us, we have lowered ourselves to their level and encouraged them to continue in their sinful ways. Under the law of Moses, children who cursed their parents were to be put to death (Ex. 21:17). There is no justification for cursing others. Christians are required by God to bless those who “revile you” (1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Pet. 3:8,9). Jesus didn’t curse those who reviled Him (1 Pet. 2:23; Mt. 27:39-44). How can we claim to be disciples of Christ when we curse others?
This inconsistent use of our tongue is contrary to nature for nature is consistent. A spring would not give good water one time and bitter water another time. The fig tree does not produce olives for every seed brings forth “after their kind” (Gen. 1:11).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 4, pp. 109-110
February 21, 1985