“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being 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 human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
(James 3:7-12 NIV)
James continues on with the test of our speech as evidence of our faith. James starts out by saying it’s easier to tame wild animals than to tame the tongue. James says we can control everything else in God’s animal kingdom, but we can’t control ourselves, and what we say.
King David captured the powerful potential to hurt others with our words:
“Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.”
(Psalm 64:2-4 NIV)
Notice David’s analogy of arrows. This is not hand-to-hand combat in an open field; this is guerrilla warfare, ambushing the innocent.
Jeremiah used this same bow-and-arrow analogy when describing Israel’s condition. He said the people used their tongue as a bow, to shoot arrows of lies at one another. This was a learned behavior; Jeremiah said they taught their tongues to lie. They were cordial in public, but laid traps for one another in their hearts (Jeremiah 9:3-9).
God understood that trust was a foundational element in society, for people to live together in peace. And to have trust, you must have honesty and integrity. This is one of the many reasons God included this in His Ten Commandments:
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
(Exodus 20:16 NIV)
The Pharisees came to pick a fight with Jesus because His disciples did not do the ceremonial handwashing before they ate. This was not about personal hygiene; this was about following the Pharisee’s man-made “rules” to be sure they did not defile or pollute their body. Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t what went into a person’s mouth that defiled them. Rather, it was what came out of their hearts, and through their mouths, making them less than pure (Matthew 15:1-20).
James lays out the problem of our tongue. We use it to praise God, and to cut down others. James’ conclusion?
“My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (verse 10b)
James says this is wrong. Now James goes on to use illustrations from nature that show the impossibility of such an occurrence. The same spring cannot produce both salt water and fresh water. And so our tongue reveals what is in our hearts.
We have looked at the negative, the test of what is in our hearts by what comes out of our mouths. What should our pattern of speech be?
The Apostle Paul laid out what we should “put off” and what we should “put on” in his letter to the church at Colossae (Colossians 3:1-17). May we guard our hearts and be that spring of fresh water to the Lord and to those around us going forward.