2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bride the whole body as well.
3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.
4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boats of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
Before we start, let’s remember the context here – we are in the middle of a long passage examining the various ways in which words are powerful…for better or for worse.
Verse 2 always makes me smile – I always do whenever the epistle writers get borderline-sarcastic. James is making the point that no one will ever have flawless control over their tongue, so even the most pious person in the world cannot claim to be perfect. Remember James 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bride his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (ESV). Think about it – if you really had the massive amount of self control to tame your tongue, wouldn’t resisting all other temptation seem like the easiest thing in the world? Angry words, vulgar words, prideful words, impatient words, gossip…it seems like all these spring out of our mouths before we have time to realize what we’re saying.
So…how does this make sense? It seems against nature that such a tiny part could cause such a gigantic problem. James doesn’t explain this directly, but rather by means of a couple of analogies – how easy it is to control a horse (a huge, powerful animal!) with one tiny piece of metal between its teeth, and how an entire ship (not just sailboats, but brigantines, man-o-wars) are steered by one piece of wood. In modern terms, think about the various components in the computer you’re reading this on – like the IBM processor, a small little square – and how much power is in each of those parts. Thinking about it in these terms, then, the tongue’s power actually makes sense – which is all the reason to keep an extra wary eye on it.
The end of verse 5 is a segway into the next post’s passage, in which we will examine the issue of the tongue as fire further.
But before I sum up for the day, I’d like share both my personal struggles with this issue, as well as a few verses pertaining to this subject.
Okay, so I have huge problems with taming my tongue! It’s seems like every time I open my mouth, I’m being rude to someone. I honestly don’t like leading studies on this subject because I don’t have it figured out at all yet! :-) God has been helping me a lot lately to catch myself immediately much more often, but that evil tongue of mine still rears its head multiple times a day.
Do you struggle with this, too? What have you found that helps you not do it?
Alright, now for a few Bible verses (ESV instead of NASB for this list; it’s another one of my favorites and I happen to have it with me right now):
* Ephesians 4:29 “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.”
* Proverbs 12:18 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
* Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
I think I'll be praying that last one a lot this week. ;-)