Guard Your Words

written by Haley King, Children & Family Ministries Coordinator (June 13, 2023)

Often held but never touched, always wet but never rusts, often bites but seldom bit, to use me well you must have wit. What am I? 

James touches on something that we all struggle with and is also the answer to the riddle above — the tongue. In our brokenness we stumble in word about ourselves with our boasting, exaggeration, and selective reporting. We stumble in word about others with our criticism, gossip, slander, cruelty, two-facedness, and anger; or with flattery and insincere words meant to gain favor.

We all struggle with our words in one way or another. We see how easily we abuse our tongue and words every day, and they ultimately control our whole body. James uses the example of a boat being controlled by a small rudder and a horse being controlled by its small bit, but how effective and important these two pieces are to controlling both the ship and the horse. The same way these control the ship and horse, our whole body is controlled by our tongue. This leads us to the question of who is controlling the reins and the rudders that is our tongue? Some people don't have their hands on the reins or rudders at all and just say whatever comes to mind, and others let their emotions and flesh control their tongue. James points us to the Spirit of God working in the new man and allowing Him to direct the reins and rudders of our tongues. 

The destruction of the tongue is described as a small fire that kindles into a great fire! The tongue is described as a world of unrighteousness that is set among one part of our body, but affects the entire body and our course of life. Before we open our mouths to speak, remember that our words are like a small fire - once the words are out, we can neither control nor reverse the damage that they can do. 

James also tells us that the tongue can either bless or curse. The tongue can be used for the highest calling (to bless our God) and it can be used for the lowest evil (to curse/hurt men). In those who are born again, it should not be said that out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. Our speech should always be glorifying to God. We should not have one set of vocabulary or tone while speaking at church and then another at home or at work. James points to the impossibility of this contradiction. He points out that just like a spring cannot produce both fresh and salt water, neither can the tongue of a believer produce both blessing and cursing.

James is not telling us to never speak at all, if anything that would be easier than practicing self control over our words. The example of the bridle, rudders, and fire can all do tremendous good when they are controlled properly. In Matthew 12 Jesus teaches that a man’s words can reveal his character. What we say can indicate who we are.

I’ll leave you with the wise words from Proverbs — “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom.” (Proverbs 10:19-21)