Warning: Poison if Spoken

Continuing with our study in the book of James....
James 3:1-12
 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 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,[a] and set on fire by hell.[b] 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. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

I am grinning as I type - when I open my Bible to this passage, it is so well-worn that I have had to tape up tears in the pages.  Apparently, I have been in need of this instruction so many times that I have worn out this section of God's Word!  I can only pray that this Truth is wearing its way into my soul and leaving its mark on my life......

James's letter is characterized by his direct approach and these verses are not an exception in any way.  As he moves from proclaiming to us in chapter two (by the way, remember that when these letters were written to 1st century believers, they weren't sectioned off in chapter and verse - we've just done that to help us break it down into more manageable pieces) that the evidence of the veracity of our faith is seen in our lives.

  And the first result he points to has to do with what we say.

What a concept.  There's an undeniable connection between our faith and our tongue.

Here is a brief sketch of what James says in verses 1-12 --
1.  A precaution about using our tongue to teach (v. 1)
I don't think James is against teaching.  Not at all.  Rather, I think he is urging believers to not take the teaching of God's truth lightly.  It can be a thrilling task to be one who teaches the Bible to others...and it can easily cause one to stumble into pride and self-righteousness and vulnerability.  So James is warning us to be cautious.  To be mindful that teaching is a serious responsibility and God will hold those who teach to a higher standard than non-teachers.  Matthew says "By your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned".  Before you teach it, be sure you live it.

2.  The proof of our faith is in our tongue (v.2)
Pretty straightforward - the condition of our tongue is evidence of the maturity of our faith.  Our words are the manifestation of who we are.  Our words reveal our heart.  Luke 6:45 - "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks".  What fills our heart spills out our mouth.

3.  The power of the tongue to direct the course of life -- ours and that of others (vs. 3,4)
WORDS, not TRUTH, can destroy a career, ruin a ministry, end a friendship.  WORDS are small things that affect in big ways - like a bridle for a horse, a rudder for a ship.  Proverbs puts it this way - The power of life and death are in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21)

4.  The potential for evil in the tongue (vs. 5-12)
Notice there are only negative descriptions - fire, poison, unable to be tamed.  It's as though James is doing all he can to paint a frightening picture.  Like in Driver's Ed when they show the film of the awful carnage of car wrecks to convey  the realm of possibility when you get behind the wheel of a car. 
James is making sure we get the picture - like a fire can be intentionally or unintentionally set, so our tongue can cause serious damage.  Whether we mean for it to or not, the effect is still a burning. And in verse 6 we see that our words not only have the potential for evil to others but even in our own lives - "set on fire the course of our life and is set on fire by hell".  Not only do we speak from the overflow of our hearts but our hearts become like the words we speak.


And James doesn't stop there.  In verses 7,8, the lack of encouragement continues.  Not only is the tongue full of deadly poison, it is also "restless" - the original Greek word here means "liable to break out".  What a description!  Just when we think we've got it under control, the tongue "breaks out" and casualty results.
I can think of several personal examples that fit this description.
Can you?

James stops abruptly here.
Just like that film in Driver's Ed was the last thing they showed in class.
He leaves us with a feeling of desperation.

So that perhaps we will acknowledge the potential for evil in our tongue...
and desperately desire the Only One who can transform it.
The One who can produce good fruit in us.
The One who can make sweet water flow from our mouth.

Help us, Lord Jesus.  Help us, please.