The tongue – in the epistle of James

The apostle James writes a remarkable little piece about the tongue in his epistle. He says in chapter 3 verse 2:

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

The way in which a person speaks influences his whole body.

Anyone who is unable to control his speech will discover that his body reacts accordingly.
For example: someone who feels anger rising within himself during a conversation and who allows it free rein in his speech.
He starts speaking louder and louder as he becomes more excited, and he becomes more and more expressive in his body language and gesticulations.
Result: A difficult conversation, which ends in a quarrel or estrangement between the parties to the conversation.

If that person does not express his anger, and keeps his tongue under control, there is a good chance that the conversation will be able to progress in a normal way.
It is really awesome if he tries to discover what is making him so angry and opens this up for discussion.
Problems can then be solved and relationships are strengthened.

James warns that the tongue, which is but a small member of our body, can cause big problems if it is not kept under control.

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.   (James 3:5)

He explains why this is the case:

The tongue becomes a fire when it is enflamed by hell.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.   (James 3:6)

Hell is the dwelling place of Satan, the devil, the adversary, the slanderer. Enflamed by ‘the adversary’, the tongue becomes ‘a world of evil’, a world of deeds, the origin of which is to be found in injustice. This is how the tongue encourages wrong behaviour. This is how the whole body becomes corrupted.

The ‘whole course of one’s life’ in this text is translated in different ways in Bible translations. What can be understood from it, is that speech is not only able to corrupt the body, but can enflame a person’s whole existence from birth.
Someone’s personal history burns out, as it were, and is destroyed.
A good name built up in someone’s life can be completely ruined in just one conversation through reckless speech.

There is a problem, therefore:

The tongue cannot be tamed naturally.

no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.   (James 3:8-10)

Praises and curses come forth from the same mouth.
The tongue itself cannot prevent this happening, because, ultimately, the tongue is an instrument that is driven.
James concludes nevertheless: This should not be the case.
If it should not be the case, it can be otherwise. There is a solution therefore.

What this is all about:

Light and darkness do not mix:

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?   (James 3:11)

On the one hand it is stated:

If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

On the other hand it is stated:

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, (easy to convince, obedient), full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (genuine, without duplicity).   (James 3:17)

And James concludes that:

Righteousness is a fruit, which is harvested, whereas peace is sown.
(freely translated from James 3:18)

  • Righteousness, doing righteous deeds, doing good, is a fruit.
  • Righteousness, doing good, is not a cause, but a consequence.
  • Righteousness is only sown in peace, not in envy or selfishness.
  • Righteousness is sown, whereas peace is established.

This requires the right inner disposition!

Jesus said:

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and

an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.   (Luke 6:45)

The manner of speech is not determined by the tongue itself.
The manner of speech is determined by the disposition of the heart.

God announced thousands of years ago through the prophet Ezekiel:

… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
(Ezekiel 36:26)

I will put my Spirit in you and you will live … declares the LORD.   (Ezekiel 37:14)

Paul writes:

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.   (Romans 5:5)

Whoever opens his heart for Jesus, so that the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into it, will discover that his manner of speech is influenced for the better by it.


See also:
Gossip and malicious talk.
Discipleship (2).


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The tongue – in the epistle of James.