Luci Shaw’s poem, “What James Didn’t Say About the Tongue,” ends with this amusing and alarming description:
“Restless, a blind, amphibious animal,
ceaselessly testing the limits of its porcelain cage,
cunning in shaping breath into word: half-truth
or proverb, benediction or blight.
As original as Eden. As unmanageable.”
As James put it: “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8). We can tame practically any animal, but not our own tongues. It’s like a wild animal is loose in our mouths! No wonder Proverbs reminds us that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (18:21).
Using words sometimes for good and sometimes for evil is not the way it should be (vv. 9–10). Praising God is one of the highest purposes of language; cursing people, who are made in His image and whom we’re commanded to love, is very wrong. It’s as though fresh water and salt water are coming from the same spring, or as though a certain kind of fruit tree is producing different kinds of fruit (vv. 11–12). How can we speak both “benediction” and “blight”? It should be impossible. It’s morally self-evident that “this should not be.”
Jesus also used the metaphor of a tree bearing fruit. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:17–18). In the context of James’s epistle, we see that only mature faith can practice self-control with words. Only spiritual rebirth and growth in holiness can produce control of the tongue. It is impossible to achieve this on our own. The fact that “no human being can tame the tongue” means that only God can!
If the secret to controlling our tongues is growing toward spiritual maturity in Christ, the secret to growing in Him is “abiding” or “remaining” in Him. He is the vine and we are the branches. If we don’t abide in Him, we’re unable to bear fruit. These images are drawn from John 15; take time this weekend to read and reflect on abiding in Christ.