THE TONGUE IS A FIRE!
James 3:5-6 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongues among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
In the two verses previous to the text verses, James gives us two good examples of things that are relatively small but control things that are much larger. A bit in the horse's mouth enables the rider to completely control the whole body of the horse. A rudder, or helm, is a very small part of a large ship. However, it enables the pilot to steer the entire ship, turning it in any desired direction. It is these two relatively small things to which James compares the tongue.
Another example is given in verse five of our text. A spark, a match, or a flame is very small, yet they can cause great forest fires. Each year, usually during dry seasons, forest fires are numerous. Some of these fires consume, and completely destroy, vast forest acreage, and either drive out, or kill, both mankind, as well as animals, that may inhabit the area. The devastation that takes place is hard to comprehend when compared to the smallness of one spark or match. Yet, because incidents such as these occur frequently, and are brought to our attention by the media, we can believe that great damage can be caused by small sparks and little flames.
James says in these few verses, Even so is the tongue. If the tongue were an independent being, these verses tell us, that it could boast of great things, and rightfully so. The tongue, when skillfully used by an orator, can control a vast number of people, and even bring about a patriotic loyalty that unifies an entire nation and stirs them to action. The tongue, when used by another capable orator, can bring a large number of people to riot and even insurrection. Likewise, two different teachers can use their tongues by speaking words that can cause a number of people to seek salvation through Jesus Christ, or, just the opposite, to deny and reject the existence of God and His Son, Christ Jesus, and cause them to lose their souls. Other body members, such as the mind, the hands, or the feet, can also accomplish great things, but no other member, except the tongue, is capable of boasting of their great accomplishments.
With all the good that can be, and is, done through words formed and spoken by one's tongue, this lesson is designed to look at the negative, evil side - to consider the tongue as a fire that can, and often does, burn out of control. The tongue is a fire! What is the limit of a fiery tongue? What are its boundaries - its depth, its heights, its width? How can its devastation be measured? This is what Barnes' Notes says about the tongue. "Who can measure the evils which arise from scandal, and slander, and profaneness, and perjury, and falsehood, and blasphemy, and obscenity, and the inculcation of error, by the tongue? Who can gauge the amount of broils, and contentions, and strifes, and wars, and suspicions, and enmities, and alienations among friends and neighbors, which it produces?"
In today's language, the tongue can be as out of control is a WMD - a weapon of mass destruction. It should, and must be controlled. However, notice what James says, in verses 7 and 8, about controlling the tongue. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Lest we use the excuse that "the devil made me do it" for producing the evil that proceeds from our mouths, consider the fact that we are capable of taming all animals, but we cannot tame the tongues of other men and women. However, we can control our own tongues! Study verses 13 through 18 of the text chapter. Under control our tongues will utter blessings, bring forth fruits of righteousness, and make peace. The mind controls the tongue, and Godly wisdom and knowledge should control your mind. Earthly wisdom is sensual, devilish, full of envy, strife, confusion, and every evil work. Wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, easily entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
The fire produced by one's tongue can only be extinguished by wisdom from above. Godly wisdom - pray for it - seek it - let it rule every aspect of your life. It is very possible others will control their tongues by the good example you set when your tongue is under control.