Jump Start # 2514
James 3:8 “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
That troublesome tongue—that’s what James details here in the third chapter of this book. James uses a variety of illustrations to talk about tongue. He compares a bit in a horses mouth to the tongue. It is able to turn as the rider wishes. He compares the tongue to a rudder of a ship. Such a massive ship is turned by such a small rudder. In both of those examples, the tongue is controlled by us. We are not along for a ride. It’s not the moment, nor is it our emotions that dictate what we might say or react to. Like a ridder on the horse, or the captain of a ship, we are in control. We decide what will be spoken.
James then describes the negative impact that the tongue can have. It’s like a fire and it can consume. He then says, in our verse today, it’s full of poison, like a viper and likely to strike at any moment. Our verse says the tongue is a restless evil. It is full of deadly poison. And, most shockingly, “no one can tame it.”
It is that last expression, “no one can tame it,” that causes the most alarm. If no one can tame it, then there’s no hope. If it can’t be tamed, why try? If it can’t be tamed, then I’m not responsible for gossiping. My tongue can’t be tamed. And, in the big picture, why does James devote most of this chapter to the tongue if it cannot be tamed? He said in the first chapter, if we do not bridle our tongue, we deceive ourselves and our religion is worthless. How can that be if it’s untamable? Great questions, but missing the point of what James is telling us about the tongue.
In the previous verse, James says that man has tamed beasts, birds and reptiles. But no one can tame the tongue is our verse. I have a cat, actually, my wife has the cat, and I put up with the cat. Our cat is tame. He’s domesticated. I do not fear him. I do not sleep with one eye open because he’s around. My guard is not up when he comes near. He may jump on my lap and take a nap. He may step on my stomach early in the morning to wake me up. But I’m not scared of him. He’s tame.
I’ve heard about people raising wild animals. When that animal is full grown it often turned on the people and injured and, sometimes even killed them. It was never fully tamed.
Our tongues are not tamed. Our tongues are like that wild animal. We have to keep an eye on it all the time. I have wild animals where I live. Just this week I saw a fox running through my yard. A neighbor had about 25 turkeys in his yard. Then I saw the most beautiful hawk sitting on a branch outside our kitchen window. And deer, they are always grazing through my landscape, like it’s a night at the buffet. Looking at these wild creatures, even from within my house, I must be very quiet. Any quick move that they see and off they run.
You can’t trust a wild animal. Untamed, it might do anything. That’s our tongues. You must treat it as an untamed animal. You have to be on guard all the time. Something happens, and that tongue wants to erupt like a volcano. Get a group of brethren together, and if not careful, the gossip starts. You have to watch it. Something great happens and the tongue wants to boast and put on the pride. Forget to do something or you let someone down, and the tongue wants to lie to cover up your responsibility. Oh, that tongue never seems to learn. You have to watch it all the time. You can’t leave it alone, because it’ll say something that it shouldn’t.
That’s the direction James is driving at. He’s not giving us a pass and throwing up the hands saying, you can’t help it. What he is saying is, you’ve got an untamed animal and you better not let him out of your sight. This means that we always have to have our guard up. We always have to be watchful. We have to be careful. That animal, our tongue, can turn at any moment. We must think first. As James said in the first chapter, we must be quick to hear and slow to speak.
It is our tongue that can do most good or the most harm. Take a typical Sunday morning down at the church house. And, what you say and how you say it can do more good than a month of sermons. Or, what you say and how you say it can stay with a person for a lifetime and be the reason why they never return.
So, here are a few things to remember:
- We do not have assigned seating at the church house. No one is in your seat, because you do not have a specific seat. We were off to the symphony last weekend. Row Q, seat 15, that’s where I sat. It was assigned. No one else could sit there. Worship isn’t like that. Be flexible. So you have sat in the same spot for the past forty years, maybe it’s time to try another spot. The worst thing that you can do is to rudely say, “You are in my seat.” No, they are not. It’s opening seating and first there, gets the pick of the seats. If you insist on sitting in one spot only, then you best be the first one down at the church house. Expecting someone to move out because you want to sit there isn’t kind, nice nor like Jesus. That tongue will lash out, if you aren’t careful.
- There isn’t a time limit to sermons. Oh, most of us think that there ought to be. So, a sermon is a bit longer than you are used to, you can point that out to the preacher and leave the impression that the only thing you got from his lesson was looking at your watch. Did you learn anything? Did it help you? Why are you in such a hurry to get out? What’s more important than worship? What you say can sure put a cloud over the preacher’s head and make him discouraged or you can just keep those thoughts to yourself. A pat on the back and a “I sure appreciate the hours you pour into helping us see God and knowing His word,” will go a long way in making his day. That tongue, it’s a wild animal.
- A new person walks in. You’ve never met them before. You can turn your head and go find someone you know to talk to. That’s the easy thing to do. And, if everyone does that, this visitor, even though encouraged by the worship, leaves thinking no one likes me and I’m not welcome there. However, if you go up and extend your hand and have a smile on your face, and say, “I’m really glad you came today,” that person just might come back. How about, “You can sit with me and my family if you’d like.” That tongue, pointed in the right direction, can sure do a lot of good.
The tongue—it’s a wild animal. You gotta watch it all the time. The wrong words, the wrong way and all kinds of trouble happens. But directed, like that horse or that ship, in the right way, and so much good can be accomplished.
This is something that we all have to work on. We all have a wild one living within us.