Read James 1:26 and James 3:1-12

If any consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongue, they deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)

James emphasises that real Christianity begins with faith, but it must be accompanied by a consistent lifestyle. James is dealing here with a subject which we all, if we are honest, find difficult: the small muscle in our mouth. Each of us has our own agenda in life. We find it very easy to say that we have faith, but extremely difficult to put our faith into action. However, we should not give up. Giving up is the easy way out and does not allow the Holy Spirit to change us or our ways.

Perhaps you have got to the point over the last few weeks when you have said to yourself: "It's no use. It’s all very well for these super-spiritual ones, but me, well, I will always be like this." If so, then this is the time to take courage. Every one of us goes through these times. What makes the difference is a single decision - which any of us can make. We may fall but there is no disgrace in that. The devil would love to get you to give up. Don’t let him. Instead, make that decision to get up, say to God that you are sorry and get going again. The key decision is to give the control of your tongue over to the Holy Spirit.

Firstly, James talks to those whose work is words. He reminds us that we should only teach if we are anointed by God to be in that position, because teachers will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1) James gives several examples to show what a long-lasting, far-reaching effect words have. They can be life-changing. They can encourage, build up or tear down. Words affect both the receiver and the giver.

Bits to horses (James 3:3)

A bit is placed into a horse's mouth and allows the rider, using something relatively small, to control the direction of the whole much bigger and more powerful horse. If the horse were to choose to go against the pressure of the bit and do its own thing, there would be very dangerous consequences, for both horse and rider. We have not mastered self-control if we do not control what we say. (Proverbs 25:28) If we want to be self-controlled, we have to begin with our tongue, otherwise we could be in great danger. (Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 18:21; Proverbs 21:23). Controlling our tongue protects our very life itself.

The horse's bit, if obeyed, can be used in very positive ways. A horse can be trained to spin round on the same spot at just one very gentle touch from the rider. Likewise, with training, we can use our tongues to speak "faith words" that create good things, just as our Father does. (Mark 11:22-24) We can follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and, with one whisper from Him, we can speak life-changing words to a precious soul. (Proverbs 16:24)
Stopping with one gentle touch on the bit is so easy, but if fought against can be so painful. So, we have to learn that there are often times when we should say nothing. (Proverbs 11:12; Proverbs 14:3; Proverbs 17:28)

Rudders to ships (James 3:4)

A large sailing ship is moved along by a very strong wind and yet its direction is determined by a very small piece of equipment: a rudder. The tongue can also be directed like a ship, its direction depending upon the purpose of the pilot. The tongue can guide and control forces much stronger than itself. The wind of the Holy Spirit can blow on our lives (John 3:8) but the power of what we say can limit that power and bring our lives to a standstill. (Proverbs 13:3) If the wind of the Spirit and the words of our mouth agree together, then there is no stopping us as we grow in grace and the knowledge of our God. (Ephesians 4:13) If we can control this small, but powerful, member, we can control the whole of the rest of our body. When we walk with the Spirit of the living God, we see amazing things accomplished in our lives for God’s glory. On the other hand, the tongue, although only a small part of the whole body, can make great boasts and cause much damage if uncontrolled. (James 3:5)

Sparks to bush fires (James 3:5-6)

Bush fires are frequently caused by a casual spark. Once alight, they quickly run wild, totally out of control, damaging everything in their path amd often unstoppable. The devastation left behind is catastrophic for people who see what they care about being ruined. Such fires, once they take hold, cannot easily be controlled or directed. They are a wild, unguided force moving unpredictably and causing immense damage. In the same way, a casual word from the tongue can wreak havoc to a godly life, affecting both the speaker and the hearer. (Proverbs 16:27) Words express our minds and our hearts.

All the nasty things in our imaginations, including anger, envy, jealousy, sexual thoughts and lying (Romans 3:12) can come out of our mouths and run like a bush fire, causing havoc when not controlled by the Holy Spirit. We repent of bad attitudes but forget to repent of the words from our mouth that perpetuate the wrong things in our heart. No amount of training will ever make us godly and clean up our tongue. (James 3:8) It corrupts the whole person... full of deadly poison. The only answer is to yield to the Holy Spirit. (Romans 12:1-2) When we are born again, God has done divine "surgery", taking out our heart of stone and giving us a heart of love and obedience instead. (Ezekiel 36:26) For this to be manifest in the way we speak, we have to "die" daily (Galatians 2:20). We have to live out our present, bodily life by faith in the Son of God, who loves us so much that He never speaks badly about us.

Fresh water or salt water? (James 3:11)

Water is either pure or contaminated. There is no "mostly pure water". The tongue is not neutral; it is either blessing or cursing. No amount of self-effort or strong will can change this; one cannot live alongside the other. What we speak is an indicator of what is in our heart. (Matthew 12:34) If our praise to God is tainted by our uncharitable speech to others, it is no longer pure praise. When we become Christians, we long for "streams of living water to flow out of us" to all those who we want to reach with the good news about Jesus. (John 7:28)

If we want our words to really reach into their lives with power to see them changed, we need to be walking in purity with holy speech. (Colossians 4:2-6) A salt stream cannot produce fresh water. (James 3:12) Salt is for preserving. We do not want to be involved in preserving the old; we want to be experiencing the fresh, new mercies of God every morning. (Lamentations 3:23) We choose to be wholeheartedly in the kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Figs or grapes? (James 3:12)

What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him 'unclean', but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’". (Matthew 15:11; Matthew 16-20) We spend much time caring about our outward concerns but - all the time - God is dealing with the "inner me", because this will change what I speak about and it's what I say that makes me unholy.

Fruit trees bring forth their own fruit. If the tree is sound, its fruit will be good. The words that come out of our mouth are like seeds, that bear fruit when planted in the soil of peoples’ hearts. Our words ought to please God. Remember that every thought and word is being examined by God and we shall have to give account for them one day. (Matthew 12:36; Hebrews 4:13) If we spend our time gossiping, we will not bear good fruit in our lives. (Proverbs 11:12-13; Proverbs 15:1,28; Proverbs 16:28) Trees that do not bear good fruit are not worth keeping. They are cut down and removed. (Matthew 3:10)

In this tiny muscle, we have the key to be powerfully used of God. As we fill our hearts with the truth from His word; as we meditate on it day and night, then it flows out of our innermost being like the Niagara Falls and brings life to everyone who hears and receives it. The word in our mouth is as powerful as God’s word in Jesus’ mouth. (Hebrews 4:12) Our words will be living food to the hungry; restoring the hurting, healing the sick; (Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 15:4) They will be revelation to the spiritually blind and freedom to the oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Our words can also be weapons of attack against all the strategies of the enemy, Satan. As with every good soldier, we have to know the workings of our weapon and be able to use it well in order to have success with it. This comes with practice. So... stop reading about it and just do it!

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