The tongue is a fire

and the world is tinder/tender.


James 3 might be my favorite passage in the Bible, if it weren’t for Philippians 2 or 1 Corinthians 13 or John 1. Okay, so it’s hard. Then there are all of those great passages in Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Job.

But, anyway, I love James 3.

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. 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 person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt [bitter] water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

The rudder of me is my tongue. What a convincing image.

I think my greatest shortcomings speech-wise are complaining and criticising. They keep steering me into the very rocky shoals of bitterness and creating the very real gale-force winds of anxiety. Speaking gratitude, on the other hand, and appreciating the good things in life (whatsoever is good, etc., as Paul says) must be making one’s own smooth sailing.

I am definitely going to actually try to do this, to set my sights on taming my tongue. If I don’t, I can see that my health will suffer for it, internally and externally, too. I suppose that it is a wonderfully possible task in Christ and through his omnipotent grace.


About Carmen

I teach English at Shorter College in beautiful Rome, Georgia.
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One Response to The tongue is a fire

  1. Sharon says:

    Yes and Amen! I really hope someday you will put your blog into a daily devotional. I think the world would benefit greatly by the very real and tangible way you translate and bring to life these lessons. I know I do! I’ve read many really good commentaries that don’t pierce through the way your words do. For me, they find that perfect path to the very heart of the matter. I thank God for this very special gift God has given you to share with all of us!

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