Thursday, January 19, 2023

Poison or Praise (James 3:5b-12)


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 whole 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 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. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. [James 3:5:b-12, ESV]

In the previous passage, we looked at how the ability to control the tongue is a sign of Christian maturity, and how we can only control our tongues when we allow God to work in our heart. As we have discussed previously, Jesus tells us how it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, so if our hearts are full of restless evil, that restless evil will come out of our mouths. Therefore, in order to have a mouth that speaks life, we must receive the gift of eternal life, and we must allow the Lord to give us new hearts. When we examined James 2:12-13, we touched on how we must live according to the most important commandment. The most important commandment consists of two equally important parts: (1) we must love the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and (2) we must love our neighbors as ourselves. When we looked at the way Jesus explained the most important commandment, we made note of how we were told that we must love God with all our hearts, and all our souls, and all our minds. One cannot love God with his soul, but not his heart, nor can he love God with his heart, but not his mind. We must love our Lord with every part of us. Only then will we be able to experience the full extent of God’s grace and love for us.

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [1 John 2:9-11, ESV]

If we do not love each other, then we walk in darkness. Those who have been born again have love for each other, and it is out of that love for each other that we can speak life to each other. The passage that we are going to read in this essay will tell us of the great power that each tongue has, and the potential that the tongue has for doing good, or for doing evil. We cannot choose to speak good things one day and speak bad things the next. We can either speak with love, out of the love that we have received from the Lord, or we can speak death, out of the death that comes to each of us as a penalty for our sins.

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.

James 3:5b-6 tells us of the great power that our tongues have. James compares the power of the tongue to the power of a fire. A small fire has the power to burn an entire forest to the ground. In recent years, there have been several large forest fires that have broken out in different parts of the world, and for weeks, people watched as firefighters struggled to get the fires under control. Those fires eventually came to an end, but only after a long battle against the firefighters, or when the fire ran out of fuel. The forest can only burn for so long. Either that fire is put out, or the fire consumes everything, leaving behind death, suffering, and ash. A spark has the potential to ruin many lives, and our tongues have a similar level of power.

The tongue is a fire, and the tongue is a world of unrighteousness. An evil tongue will taint the rest of the body. The stain of an evil tongue will set on fire the entire course of life. The evil tongue is set ablaze by the fire of Hell, empowered to spread evil and sin wherever it speaks. My understanding of James 3:6 is that, just as God empowers us to do good things, the devil can empower us to do evil things. After all, we have just read of the great power to do evil that each tongue has, and that power is certainly beyond the ability of any man or woman. Does God give us the power to speak such evil to those around us? Certainly not! The Bible tells us that all good comes from God, and that God is love, so we know that God cannot empower us to speak evil.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [1 John 4:7-8, ESV]

Knowing that the power that the tongue wields to speak evil does not come from man or woman, nor does it come from God, where else could such power come from?

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 3:7-8 confirms what we have previously discussed about how we can only control our tongues when God empowers us to do so. The tongue is far too powerful for any man or woman to control, but we know that the devil is more powerful than we are, and the Lord is infinitely more powerful than he. We lack the power necessary to take control of our tongue. The only One who can give us the ability to overcome the evil that is held in the tongue is the Lord. God has ultimate authority, and the devil has no power over Him. Only God can free us from the bondage of sin, and only God can free us from the evil that comes from our tongues.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

The end of this passage ties together the ideas that James has previously explained to us. We know that the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison, and is unable to be controlled by any man or woman. We know that the fire that engulfs the tongue has come from the fire of Hell, and we know that the fire of the tongue has the ability to set forests ablaze. In James 3:9-10, we read about how the tongue is used to bless and to curse, which tells us that our tongues can set forests ablaze, or our tongues can plant trees of life. We can speak life, or we can speak death. We can speak wisdom, or we can speak foolishness. We can speak love, or we can speak hate. We cannot, however, speak of both love and hate. We cannot speak life and death, just as we cannot love God with our hearts, but not with our souls. A spring cannot have saltwater and fresh water, nor can a grapevine grow figs. The way we use our tongues is a binary decision, and we must choose to speak life.

I have always struggled to filter out some of the things that I say. I am told that I am very nice, and that I am very sweet to others. I will not praise myself, but I will say that I never seek to harm others. I do not seek to make people unhappy, nor do I seek to create conflict. That being said, I still struggle to control my tongue, but I really should not be struggling at all. I should not be struggling to control my tongue, not because controlling my tongue would be bad, but because the Bible tells me that I cannot control my tongue. None of us can control our tongues, but God can. God can control my tongue by giving me a new heart, and filling me with the desire to spread love and joy to those I interact with. I do not always succeed in encouraging others, but I have been able to control my speech far more often since I put God first in my life. I used to speak of horrible things, and I have said many things that have made me feel ashamed. I have said things to people that I love, and I have hurt those people more than I could describe in writing. It breaks my heart to think that I broke anybody else’s, and one of the things that the Holy Spirit has been working on in my life is the way I speak. I used to be very pessimistic, and I used to look at things with an attitude that was rooted in cynicism, sarcasm, and sin. To those I have hurt in the past, I am deeply sorry, and I pray that you forgive me. I felt like a failure, and I always thought that I would fail at whatever I tried to do. In my defense, I failed a lot. In fact, when I turned my life around, when I put God first, and when I began to do what God had called me to do, I realized that the majority of my shortcomings were due to my refusal to seek God’s help.

When I began to seek God’s will for my life, I began to feel the Lord putting desires on my heart. If I could go back and show the person I am today to the person I was a few years ago, the old version of myself would probably make fun of the current version of myself. I was always a Christian, but I did not always live like one. I wanted to control my life, I wanted to control my future, and I wanted to do things that I now realize I should not have done. I said that I loved God, and I believe that I did. No matter how many times I said that I wanted to do what God wanted me to do, the reality is that I was not interested in pursuing the calling that God had for my life.

I have always been a writer, and I have wanted to write a book since I was a little boy. One of the nicest gifts that I have ever received is a hardcover copy of a book that I wrote when I was in third grade (if I am not mistaken). I was very young, but I knew somebody that my mother and father would go to for any help with designing websites (I spent the latter half of my childhood as a missionary), producing videos to use in ministry, and things like that. I asked my mother if I could call that friend, and she said that I could. I do not remember what I said, but I do remember that I asked him if he knew how I could get my book published. I remember that he said something other than “uh, no”, since I was excited after the call ended.

A while later (months, or years, I cannot remember), I received a gift. It was from the same friend that I had asked about how to get a book published. The gift was the book that I had written, its formatting had been improved a bit, but the writing (and the illustrations) were exactly as they were in the copy that I had written in school. Currently, that book is the only book that I have authored, but I do not think that it will be my last. That friend has continued to be close to my family, and I love him very much. In fact, he was the person who helped me design the artwork for Wasting Faith, which was (in my opinion) the most professional aspect of that plan. If you are reading this, I love you, Uncle Brian!

I wanted to write, and I had been able to write at a level that was far better than the people I went to school with. Even in elementary school, I was always one of the best in my class when it came to spelling, and I remember writing a report that was far longer than anything that my classmates had written. In highschool, I was far better at writing than I was as a young child (which is not very impressive, but I will not remove this from my essay), and I remember getting perfect scores on several big writing assignments. My final paper that I turned in, during my senior year of highschool, was over forty pages long, and I remember my classmates being shocked at how much I had written. I cannot say that the tome that I submitted was very good, but it received a good grade, so I guess I wrote well.

I spent my years as a teenager, speaking about things that did not glorify God, in a way that was not in keeping with the grace of God, and my speech was made even worse by the sheer abundance of it. I would talk, and talk, and talk, then talk some more, and I would talk until people could not bear to listen to my incessant babbling any longer, or until I lost my voice. I spoke a lot, and I spoke a lot of evil things. Those evil things reflected the sin that had taken control of my heart, and that sin wore away at my mind, at my relationships, at my hopes, and at my faith.

When I rededicated my life to Christ, I had nothing else to give me hope. I had lost everything, and I had no desire to live. As I walked with Christ, I began to notice the way my heart changed. I began to feel uncomfortable around certain topics that had previously been interesting to me, music that I had enjoyed as a teenager began to make me feel disturbed in my spirit, and I became aware of the sin that I had allowed to take control of my life. I prayed for the strength to do what I knew that I had to do, then I began to take back my life from the sin that had once enslaved me. By the power of God, I was able to clean up my life, clean up the way I speak, and come to understand what it is that God has called me to do. I began to write, and I found that ideas came to my mind all day, every day. I would lie awake at night, thinking about all the things that I wanted to write about, and I would dream about them as well. I started taking notes, reading a lot of books, listening to hour after hour of people teaching through the Bible, and I found that I was able to memorize far more than I thought. I asked God to lead me, and He has led me. All that I have accomplished has been accomplished by the power of God, and I will never forget all the things that God has done for me.

God took the skills that I had, such as my ability to write, my love of speaking, and my willingness to say things that many would not be willing to say, and He put them all to use. Instead of speaking about evil things, I found myself speaking about the Bible. Instead of writing occasionally, I found myself writing every day, and writing about the Bible. I found that my willingness to speak bluntly with people has been used to correct others (not often), but in love.

The point of me sharing so much about my life is not to brag, nor is it to add length to my essay, it is to share what God has done in my life, and to share how God helped me control my tongue. That does not mean that I am perfect, nor does it mean that I always have control of my speech. I have had an issue with saying inappropriate things, making offensive jokes, and asking stupid questions for as long as I can remember. That issue is part of my character, but it does not need to be used to sin. Just as God took my ability to write and used it to start this ministry, He took my love of talking and used it to create a man who never shuts up about the Word of God.

If you are struggling to control what you say, I would encourage you to give up trying to control it on your own, to ask God for help, and to remain committed to following God’s will for your life. God bless you all.

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