Up until adulthood, I’ve been good at every stage of my life. Although I don’t recall, evidence suggests that I was good at being a baby because I’m good at whining, crying, fussing, eating, and sleeping. I was good at being a kid because I loved to play and watch TV, and in retrospect, I was pretty selfish and ungrateful as most kids are. When I got to college, I was good at being a college student. I’d go just about anywhere for free food, and I would prepare myself for studying by napping and procrastinating. Out of everything, I was probably best at being a college student.
But I was also really good at being a teenager. I was awkward and obsessive about certain things. And I could get smart and backtalk with the best of them.
I’ve since honed the qualities that created that in me to now make myself sassy, sarcastic, and funny. Back then, I thought I was funny and so did some of my friends, but mostly, I was sort of mean. The way I talked, I sometimes hurt people, and I could even do so without realizing it. The sad thing is, though, that when I did realize it or had it pointed out to me, I was either apathetic or defensive.
I had a huge problem with my tongue, so you can imagine how much reading James during that time hit home with me.
James 3:2, 5-12 (NRSV) says, “For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle….How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.”
The book of James has a very special place in my heart because it incorporates many things I appreciate – imagery, bluntness, and good content. Not only does James have all of this, but it’s all wove together.
If you’ve never had a big tongue issue, you may think James is being dramatic about the fire and the poison. If you’re like me (and maybe James as well since he’s so familiar with this), you know he’s right.
Even if you haven’t burned others with your tongue, you’ve been burnt. I’m sure that somewhere down the line, someone has been rude or spiteful or unkind to you with his or her words. You may or may not have let on, but it hurt. Whether you are starting fires or trying to put them out, we can all see the tongue’s flame well.
If you know your Bible well or if you’ve really kept up with this blog recently, you’ll know that what James defines as a tongue problem, Jesus defines as a heart problem. In Matthew 15:18 (NLT), Jesus says, “But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you.”
That isn’t the only thing about what James is saying that relates back to what Jesus said in the book of Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:24 (NLT), Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other…”
Two things trying to live in one heart like two things coming out of the same mouth. That we speak praises then curses is a sign that our hearts have some bad stuff in them or that our hearts don’t completely belong to God.
I mentioned this in passing last week, but I’d like to speak more on it here – God is always after our hearts. He wants to be the one that holds them, but He also wants them to be in good shape for our own sakes and the sakes of the people around us. He wants to be our source of life and for us to share that life with others. He wants us to be springs of fresh, flowing water that will reach people who desperately need a drink. And that can only happen when our hearts are found in Him.
When James talks about the tongue and how powerful and destructive it is, he is identifying a very real issue. It’s a result of a much larger issue, though, and that issue is the state of the heart.
I challenge you to analyze three things. First is your heart. Who is its master and what is its condition? Is it God’s? Is it joyful or bitter? Second, listen to your words. Are they refreshing or harsh? How would you feel constantly taking them in? And third, look at your actions. Our actions say the most about us, so if they are faulty, it is the ultimate tell that something isn’t right. If one was to watch you, would he or she see a life and love that only come from faith and joy in God? Be honest with yourself. What are you like?
What we are by nature is fire. If left to our own preferences and devices, we want to burn and hurt. What God wants to turn us into is water that will give life to those around us. In a world of salt water, He wants us to be the fresh that quenches everyone’s thirst. That transition can only happen if we give our hearts completely to God and let that heart come through in our words and actions.
By Carrie Prevette