1My friends, we should not all try to become teachers. In fact, teachers will be judged more strictly than others. 2 All of us do many wrong things. But if you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body.
3By putting a bit into the mouth of a horse, we can turn the horse in different directions. 4It takes strong winds to move a large sailing ship, but the captain uses only a small rudder to make it go in any direction. 5Our tongues are small too, and yet they brag about big things.
It takes only a spark to start a forest fire! 6 The tongue is like a spark. It is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person's entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself. 7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures can be tamed and have been tamed. 8But our tongues get out of control. They are restless and evil, and always spreading deadly poison.
9-10 My dear friends, with our tongues we speak both praises and curses. We praise our Lord and Father, and we curse people who were created to be like God, and this isn't right. 11Can clean water and dirty water both flow from the same spring? 12Can a fig tree produce olives or a grapevine produce figs? Does fresh water come from a well full of salt water?
On Keats Island in British Columbia I was speaking to junior high schoolers at a camp. (My respect for junior high teachers grew exponentially after this experience.) However, I captured their attention by asking them to keep a secret with me. On Wednesday of that week, I had arranged to have a deadly weapon brought onto the island. They would be able to see it, touch it and ask questions about it.
A Canadian Armed Forces officer was in on it with me and agreed to help me pickup the “weapon” and carry it carefully into the camp in an ammunitions box. The teens gathered with expectancy as the box entered the room.
Now what they did not know is that I had arranged with the butcher in Gibsons, British Columbia, to give me a cow’s tongue. It was huge and heavy. You should have seen the youth respond to the tongue when I pulled it out. It was bloody and slimy, just perfect for junior highers!
With tongue in arms I recited this passage in James emphasizing we each have a choice about how we speak. I explained this weapon has been used to bring down the strongest men and women. Since everyone can relate to, and is perhaps guilty of, tongue misuse I had them share in small groups about a time when someone said something to them that really hurt or embarrassed them. Out of our mouths can come praises and curses.
James is giving hope to those who struggle in getting through a day without being critical, or swearing, or lying. Our tongues can be disciplined. In the same manner a bit is used to direct a horse, or a rudder is used to steer a sailboat onto the correct course – this relatively small part of our physical body can be, and has to be, directed. We can discipline ourselves in how we speak.
Jesus, as a step of discipline, may I not have a critical word come from my mouth this week. Nudge me if I fail. May I use my tongue to bestow blessings and praise on others.