“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:6, AV)
There is a commercial that airs occasionally which features Smokey the Bear. The tag line is, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” The point is that every year major fires occur due to careless people who do not think about what they are doing. A person throws a lit cigarette out of a car window and it lands on dry grass. A camper does not extinguish his campfire and sparks rise onto a dry forest. A man drives his car onto a dry grassy field and the catalytic converter touches the dry brush. The results are a fire that destroys nature, property, and life. A spark, a small flame, or an insignificant heat source and the result is a destructive blaze.
James states that the tongue has this destructive power. Words have begun riots, began wars, destroyed people, resulted in divorce, caused needless pain, etc. Recently PBS aired a show called “World on Fire.” It is a show depicting the lives of several people caught up in the throws of World War Two in Europe. It is amazing that this entire tragic episode of history was sparked bay the vision of one mad-man named Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a master communicator who used his communicative skill and the media to move a nation to do the unspeakable. It shows the destructive power of the tongue.
Here, James tells us that the tongue is like a fire. It is small but can cause major destruction. He gives us some of the potential damaging aspects of speech, if the tongue is not controlled. First, he stated that the tongue can defile the whole body. It is amazing how many young people cannot use any other adjectives than those with four letter words. It is appalling. Yet, their speech, while singeing the ears of innocent bystanders, also defiles themselves. Onlookers immediately label them as vulgar. But it is not just profanity that marks a person. Hitler’s message to the people of Germany, forever marks him as a defiled person.
James goes on to tell us that unrighteous speech sets on fire the entire course of life. It is not just that it marks a person as being defiled. It also has devastating effects on the lives of others and the situations surrounding the speaker. Like the example of Hitler, our unrighteous and unwholesome speech will alter the world around us in negative ways.
Yes, the tongue needs to be controlled. Yet, who can do it? James goes on to indicate that it is impossible for man to control the tongue.
“For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7–8, AV)
Man can tame wild beasts, but not the tongue. The truth is that man cannot fix his own problem because the nature of man is corrupted, and corrupt cannot fix corrupt. But there is one and only one who can tame the tongue. The Lord is able to tame the tongue of those who have receive Him. Those who are in Christ are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17). It is absolutely possible for the redeemed to cease the destructive fire of the tongue, if they will live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.