So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
James was making a powerful point that we tend to forget—just like a single spark can burn a forest to the ground, our words (even just a few of them) have the power to destroy. If you take a minute to let James' words sink in, it's obvious that he's speaking the truth. You've been burned by the words of others, haven't you? And I bet you've allowed your words to singe others in return.
If we keep reading just a little bit further, we find a specific way our words can scald:
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so (v. 10).
James specifically addresses "my brothers" in this verse, but I have a hunch that James knew a thing about girl-world when he penned these words. We're exceptionally good at spouting blessings and curses simultaneously. What might that sound like?
"She's really pretty, but she can be so stuck up."
"Yeah, she's nice, but sometimes she really gets on my nerves."
"She's such a flirt, but I just love her to death."
Blessings and curses coming out of the same mouth ... often in the same sentence. We girls know how to sugarcoat our burning words, don't we? But James simply reminds us that "these things ought not to be so."
In other words, stick to the blessings and ditch the curses all together. You've got no business using your words to tear down others, even if you wrap it in a compliment.
But sometimes, we just need to vent, right? After all, we're just being honest. If you've ever justified blessing and cursing that way, you need to check this out:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).
This verse draws a hard line in the sand. If it tears others down, don't say it. If it builds others up, do. Good advice in light of the fact that our tongues are a spark capable of setting an entire forest ablaze, huh?
‘Fraid you can't straddle the fence here—you can either seek to tame your restless tongue by sticking to words that bless and build up, or you can keep starting fires by cursing and tearing down. So take a look at that hard line, and ask yourself these questions:
- Do you use your words to tear others down (even when they can't hear you)?
- Do you refuse to say anything that is unwholesome? That means that if it is harmful, impure, or unhelpful, you don't say it.
- Do you bless and curse at the same time? Do you wrap your put-downs in a compliment?