The Fire of the Tongue
By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell
Scripture Reading: James Chapter 3
Key Verse: James 3: 5
“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”
When I was a child and kids were taunting each other, verbally bullying each other, we learned to defend ourselves by saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” That is one mantra of my cultural upbringing that I no longer believe and have abandoned as truth, because even as a child, words did hurt me and I didn’t believe this saying, even if I tried using it. I believed then as I do now that words are powerful things.
In this chapter of James we are warned not to become teachers, not many of us anyway, because those who become teachers will be judged by a higher standard. The scripture says that teaching is a gift of the spirit and that those who teach others have a high moral responsibility and misuse of that gift will have consequences. Teaching mostly includes showing and teaching verbally and what we say can have a great impact. Teachers have shaped my life by what they have told me, as did my parents. What we believe of what we have learned from others has longstanding effect—that’s why teachers are held to a high standard; because, there is great power in what we learn from others which can be either positive or negative.
The analogy of the fire that takes over a forest is a powerful message when referring to our tongues. If we think for a moment about a wildfire and how it spreads, that is a perfect analogy to how gossip spreads. These days the use of the internet can spread gossip faster than a wildfire. Those messages can devastate a person. And we know of instances where individuals were bullied in cyberspace to such a degree that they took their own lives. Words can hurt.
But, words aren’t always bad or hurtful. In fact, words are very useful tools. As you already know about me, I love words. Words are a source of great pleasure and satisfaction for me personally. It’s why I became a Speech-Language Pathologist—I believed nothing was more important than for an individual to be able to express and receive love through communication, and words, in particular.
Words can be used to express great love. And words can heal. What about the Word of God? The Bible says that the Word of God was there in the beginning and that Word is Jesus—He is the very Word of God. And that Word is about love. And it is truth, truth that always has been.
James makes a point that words can be used for good and evil and that we are to learn to tame the tongue and make appropriate use of it. But, he makes a good point when he says that it doesn’t make much sense that both blessing and cursing come from the same mouth (verse 10)—he says, “these things ought not to be this way.”
As in a previous chapter, we are warned to “bridle” our tongues. James is mostly warning us about misuse of our speech and language, but that if we use these properly, we can stay on course, as a horse with a bit in its mouth or a rudder that directs a ship (v. 3-4).
So, let us remember that kind words are always more helpful than mean words, that what we say to our children may have more effect on them than we can even imagine, that words can hurt and words can heal. Let us remember to use them wisely.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I believe that we are given great responsibility where our tongues are concerned and that it is your will that we “tame” our tongues, using our speech and language to your glory and not for harm. May we always be conscious of the power of our words. Amen.