Big Idea: Wisdom begins with our words.
Words are powerful things. We can build someone up or tear them down. We can strengthen a relationship or destroy one. Words are also uniquely easy to employ. We do not need anything special to speak; our mouths are with us all the time. Various forms of technology give us the ability to speak easily and without immediate obvious consequence, emboldening us even more. In modern society, our marriages, our child rearing, our friendships, and our politics are all in chaos, largely because of untamed tongues. That tongue, James says, is a fire. Fire has three characteristics I think are relevant here: it only needs a little bit to start, once it starts spreading it is very difficult to stop, and it leaves destruction behind it. Our words are the same way, and a life of wisdom must weigh each one carefully.
But James also explains that a tongue is like a horse’s bridle or a ship’s rudder; although it is small, it sets the course for everything else. Our words can set a course for our actions, where we set off a chain reaction with an ill advised remark that takes us farther than we want to go. Even in our own emotions, choosing to complain can set us deeper into a feeling of irritation and discontent. Your words are the rudder of your life. Are they pointing you in the direction you really want to go?
God made the world with His words. He spoke His Word to us and called Himself the Word when He became a human being. Speech is no casual thing but a central part of what it means to be an image bearer of God, a special gift of humanity. Then how blasphemous is it for us to take that gift and use it to speak against people who are also made in the image of God? No one would burn a picture of someone they loved, yet people claim to love God while slandering the people made after His likeness. James tells us that this is as insane as one plant bearing two kinds of fruit. Our words reveal our hearts and when we control our language with love, the whole body will follow in wisdom.
Discussion Idea: When someone says “’I just speak my mind,” what are they really saying? Should we be concerned when a date, a politician, a friend, or a church leader cannot control their words? What does that say about their wisdom and the state of their hearts? Read Proverbs 18:6-7 and compare it to what James is saying here.
Prayer Focus: No one can totally tame the tongue except the One who made it. Pray for God’s help to think of Him before you speak and to only say the words which glorify Him.