In his third chapter, James writes:
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though [they be] so great, and [are] driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet [water] and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so [can] no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”
There are fewer passages that are more sobering than that. It vividly shows that talk is not cheap – that the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is totally wrong. We all can think of examples of how just a few words destroyed a person. Words are powerful – and deadly.
What is even more sobering is that when, in the last paragraph James applies this to believers, he shows that, even after people have been brought to faith, they can’t completely control their tongues. The best we can do is an unnatural inconsistency – as we talk out of both sides of our mouths.
That is something that I can’t argue with. It’s not difficult to think of biting words I wished I would have swallowed; unloving criticism that I have gleefully offered, teasing that went too far. This passage does a good job of fulfilling its purpose. It vividly shows me my sin.
What a blessing it is that seeing my sinfulness doesn’t drive me to despair but rather drives me into the arms of my Savior. As I think about this passage, I am filled with awe with the realization that Jesus never once spoke a wrong word. Never once did his tongue cause him to sin. Just try to imagine that. As a boy playing with his brothers and sisters and the other kids in Nazareth, he never once said anything wrong. As a carpenter, never venting about a customer. As a teacher, always giving just the right criticism to his disciples. Even when he was abused, he didn’t strike back with wrong words.
And then! I realize that I get all the credit for that! This is all part of the perfect robe of his righteousness – the robe that he has freely given me – the robe that makes me perfect in God’s sight. But not only did he cover my sins with his righteousness, he washed them away with his blood! All those unkind words – all that biting criticism – they have been separated from me as far as the east is from the west. Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am a perfect saint in God’s eyes. Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am totally confident that I will spend all eternity with him and the Father as part of their eternal family. To him and to him alone be all praise and glory!