Taming the Tongue

Jane Olson

READ : James 3:1-12

The tongue is a fire. (v. 6)

Speech is a uniquely human gift; it's one of the ways we reflect the image of our Creator. God used the Word to call creation into existence, to give it order, and ultimately to redeem it. Human speech also has transformative power. God gave us the gift of speech first to praise him and second to redeem and restore those around us.

Words can do tremendous good. They can communicate love, express worship, preach Christ. Words can also become weapons of mass destruction. In this passage, James develops a series of metaphors to remind us of the tongue's capacity to destroy both ourselves and our communities.

He first compares the tongue to a ship's rudder. Just as a rudder controls a ship, so our words steer the direction of our souls. We think of gossip or complaining as small faults. But if you indulge in these behaviors, you will reach a point where you cannot separate yourself from your actions—you will be a gossip, you will be a complainer. The tongue shapes the soul.

Second, James describes our tongue as a forest fire that can destroy entire communities. Think of congregations that have been ripped apart by back-biting or families destroyed by lies. Finally, he reminds us that we can't produce righteousness and holiness if we have poison at our core.

Consider your tongue. Does it produce fresh water (life) or salt (destruction)?


Lord, show me how to use my words to glorify you and reflect your love to others.