“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”
The teaching in James 3:1-12 concludes with these four verses. In this passage James discusses the tongue. Here he calls it an unruly evil full of deadly poison. With the same tongue we bless God and curse men who are made in God’s likeness. This shouldn’t be so.
Our Lord Jesus Christ referred to the tongue in Matthew 15:17–20 where He spoke about what defiles a person. The apostles had been accused by the Pharisees of not following the law because they had not washed their hands before they ate. To the Pharisees, this would make them unclean. The Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the accusers pointing out that it is what comes out of a man that defiles him, not what goes in. Later, while explaining it to His disciples, he told them, “Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”
The problem with our tongue is our heart. According to Jesus’ words, what is in our heart will spill out of our tongue. We don’t want to be known as guilty of any of those things that Jesus listed. But Jesus said it is what fills our hearts. We have a sin nature that is untamed before God and refuses to have anything to do with Him or His ways. So, the tongue is untamable.
Jesus’ comments regarding this are nothing new. In Genesis 6:5 we read, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This was said before the flood. After the flood, God said, in Genesis 8:21, “…for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” This is what our hearts look like to God.
In Exodus 15:22-24 we read, “So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”
God had mightily led the Israelites out of Egypt. He defeated the army of Egypt in the Red Sea. He led them in their journey day and night by a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. In leading them He brought them to the place called Marah. And what did they do? They complained about the lack of water. God provided them so much and in so many ways that they should have realized that He was also well able to provide them drinkable water. But their tongues wagged and complained about God and His care for them.
This shows what was in their hearts. It wasn’t God’s provision that was at the top of their mind. It was their need of water. Yet Jesus revealed (it should be obvious) that God knows what we need (Matthew 6:8). He made us, and He is good. He certainly didn’t lead Israel into the desert to let them all die. His goal was to teach them to look to and trust in Him.
Our tongue often gets us into trouble. The evidence James gives is how we treat our fellow man with our tongue. So long as they are agreeable to us, we speak nicely. But if they cross us, the things we think to say are embarrassing when we reconsider them. Sometimes we say what we think, and afterwards we wish we had not. By then the damage is done, and, perhaps, a sincere apology will begin to make things right. Sometimes, there is no repairing the damage.
To fix our tongue, our heart needs to be fixed. Romans 10:9,10 tells us, “…that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” And 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
When God makes a change in our lives, He starts with the heart. When we accept His great gift of salvation through Jesus, our heart is changed, and our tongues will reveal that change. It is a life-long process, but through the change in our heart, God tames the tongue.
Savior, lead me, lest I stray,
Gently lead me all the way;
I am safe when by Thy side,
I would in Thy love abide.
Lead me, lead me, Savior, lead me lest I stray;
Gently down the stream of time,
Lead me, Savior, all the way.
Thou the refuge of my soul
When life’s stormy billows roll;
I am safe when Thou art nigh,
All my hopes on Thee rely.
Savior, lead me, then at last,
When the storm of life is past,
To the land of endless day,
Where all tears are wiped away.
Refrain (Frank M. Davis)