Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fre – James 3:5-12
The topic for today is tongues and the power of this seemingly unassuming body part. It is rather small relative to other more vital parts like our brain and heart, but this passage argues it has an ability to corrupt “the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”. Wow I never considered the great power of my palate.
This idea of tongues and he’ll came up back in Like 16:19-31 in a post entitled “the great chasm“. In that story a rich man finds himself in hell thirsting for water because of his life choices that focused on material wealth at the expense of his eternal soul. This passage is alluding to another consequence of an untamed tongue – a “salty” disposition.
My daughter likes to use the term “salty” to describe a state of being annoyed or bothered by something or someone, “I am salty about…” The “saltiness” described here is something beyond brief bothersome event. It is describing a pattern of personality that is in some sense poisonous and toxic, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”
The author is arguing that praising and cursing are incompatible with one another, like oil and water. Oil and water do not readily mix or combine but salt dissolves in water making it bitter and eventually undrinkable. Salty water can also ruin land and crops making them unproductive and “bitter”. This is what an untamed tongue can do to our lives and our faith if left unchecked. It can turn the well of living water that is supposed to be within us into a salty spring.
It is difficult and expensive to desalinate salty water. It is much easier to prevent mixing fresh and salty water in the first place. It is equally difficult to “uncontaminate” our lives and our faith after we have allowed our tongues to contaminate them. I think we have all known people who become more angry and bitter, “salty”, as they get older. Their salty lives are a consequence of perpetually unchecked tongues.
Our lives are supposed to be filled with Living Water from the One River that is always fresh and always new. The fresh water can be used by the Master Gardener to produce amazing things during all stages of our lives from infancy to old age.
If the “fruit” of our lives is not what we want, and we are feeling bitter and “salty”, we need to tame our words and tongue – “My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
Prayer: God help us to guard our tongues and use them to convey love and blessing rather than bitterness and cursing.