"See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." (James 3:5-8)The effect of our tongue is disproportionate to its size. Often we use our tongue to reflect our anger or hurt in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. We say things like, "I just needed to get that off my chest." However, we are often unaware of the effect our words have on others, and even upon ourselves. We may, in the moment, feel better, having released all our emotions through our words, but the effect of those words on others and the long term health of our own lives can be incalculable. A few simple words uttered in anger or hurt can produce a lifetime of pain and offense in others that is not easily healed. Solomon said, "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel." (Proverbs 18:19)
James tells us two important things about our tongue. First is that, among all the members of our body, the tongue is one that can defile us. This means to soil, make dirty, or to stain us. I once met the wife of one of my coworkers and she was a very pretty woman... until she opened her mouth. Such foul words changed completely how I looked at her. However, I have known some rather plain women who spoke with such warmth, kindness, and cheerfulness that you couldn't help but like them. You may be stunning on the outside, but your tongue reveals what is on the inside, and inward beauty is much more compelling than outward beauty. A person with a beautiful soul is perceived by their gracious words and is thought by all to be a beautiful person. However, ugliness of the soul overshadows all earthly beauty can can never be overcome by makeup, ornamentation, and apparel. King David said, "For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation." (Psalm 149:4) But this can only take place if we allow His salvation to reach even to our tongue.
Secondly, the tongue is like a fire, ready to inflame any situation we might meet. Our words have the ability to either defuse a potentially volatile situation or to cast fire to the fuel and to make things worse. Solomon said, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) Unfortunately, before coming to Christ, we let our tongue to be trained for evil; trained by the very spirits and motives of hell. Our tongues have become the unwitting servants of the forces of darkness and the workers of iniquity. Not only have we learned to use our tongue in the service of the evil one, but we have let it also set on fire the course of our lives. We have used our tongue to sow bad fruit and we have eaten that fruit ourselves. To change the course of our lives we must learn to tame our tongue. Taming our tongue will not be easy nor will it be miraculously affected in a day or and hour, but it will take work, consistency, and time, but the fruit we will bear in our lives, and the fruit we will help to produce in the lives of others, will make all our efforts worthwhile. The tongue is restless and unruly. It is in constant motion and agitation. In fact, Solomon promised, "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19 NKJV) This fight to tame our tongue will not be easy, but it is a fight we must win and a fight we can win through the power and grace of our Lord.