“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.” NRSV
James makes it clear that our tongues betray us. Using terms James would not have known, every time we open our mouths we run the risk of perjuring ourselves before God. For instance, we sit in the backyard drinking beer with our friends, all white, telling racist jokes, yet, at work, we act like our black co-worker is our best friend. “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?” No, it doesn’t.
Or we only give thought of God during the week by way of the expletives we speak with such ease, then, on Sunday morning, while begrudgingly sitting in church, we stand and sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” “Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs?” No, they can’t.
James reminds us that God hears every word we utter while looking into our hearts to assess the truthfulness of our words. That’s what makes our tongues so dangerous. “It stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That’s quite a motivating image! We might be better served if we only spoke what is in our hearts. I know how hard a task that is, but not perjuring myself before God may help extinguish my tongues hellish fire.
Be a blessing to someone to day!