So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. – James 3:5-8
As a child you no doubt heard the verse – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
I am not sure of the origin, but whoever came up with that little verse obviously meant to teach a lesson in toughness and it is true, at least to a point. It is true that sticks and stones can break bones, but it ignores the deeper injury of words said with the intent to cause harm.
Power to Destroy
As James continues his commentary on the tongue he describes the tongue as a fire and then as poison. The words we speak have the power to build up other people or to absolutely destroy.
Consider just three ways our tongues can destroy:
- We damage others when we lie and especially when we use a half-truth. Think otherwise? Take another look at the sequence of events in Genesis 3:1-5.
- We destroy lives when we slander others. The problem of gossip is not a new thing at all. “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:16
- We destroy others with our careless talk. Paul warned the Ephesians that there should be “no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Ephesians 5:4
But there is great power in our tongues – “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11