The Tongue is a Fire

flame-1345507_640.jpg17th Sunday after Pentecost | September 16, 2018

Proverbs 1:20-33   •   Psalm 19  •   James 3:1-12  •  Mark 8:27-38

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

James 3:1-12 New Living Translation (NLT)


James begins this section of his letter with a warning, especially to us to teach or preach in the church.  We are warned that God’s judgement will be more strict to us.  This warning comes just before he starts teaching about the tongue.

It’s interesting in the first part of the letter, James tells us that “Temptation comes from our own desire, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow is gives birth to death.” This is a very similar thought to what Jesus teaches, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Our tongues really show our heart. He says that if we could control our tongues, we could control our whole being.  Think about that for a moment…the tongue only speaks what is already in the heart…our tongue is not the evil…the evil that our tongue speaks comes from deep down.

James goes on to tell us how difficult it is to control the tongue.  We often say, sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me. How untrue these words are…we know the power of hurtful words. Those words can sting for days, weeks, months, and even years, even decades.  It seems that words that we heard when we were young, can sting – and can be recalled 40, 50 years later.  Those words we heard – the words that hurt can still affect us.

We are reminded how a little spark can cause a great forest fire.  I think we can see how the tongue can create havoc.  The tongue has the power to sooth or the tongue has the power to inflame.  All we have to do is look at the riots that happened in Charlottesville last year.

James goes on to tell us how we can tame all sorts of wild animals, but yet the tongue is hard to tame, because it is connected to the heart.

I love the hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The rest of the phrase goes, “my great Redeemer’s praise.” Sometimes we have enough trouble with one tongue.  James wonders how we can praise God and curse people with the same one tongue.  It’s not possible.  He says, “Brothers and sisters, this is not right.” We wouldn’t see fresh water and bitter water come from the same spring.  A fig tree does not produce grapes…fresh water doesn’t come from a salty spring.

We can’t praise God and curse people at the same time.  Remember the tongue is a fire. But one of the best things we can do is have a change of heart…because when our heart changes, our tongue will change.

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