The Yik Yak app, now thankfully defunct, allowed users to post anonymous comments and to agree or disagree with other users’ comments within a five-mile radius. For example, students on a university campus could share opinions about teachers, courses, or classmates. The app’s anonymous posts degenerated into many instances of gossip, bullying, harassment, racist and sexist slurs, and threats of violence.
The Yik Yak app revealed some of the nastier uses of language. Mature faith expresses itself in good deeds, such as helping fellow believers in need. Another example of faith in action is self-control with words—a common topic in wisdom literature.
James is circling back to a topic he already raised (1:19). In fact, controlling our speech is such an important and challenging example of faith that he writes that those who can control their tongues are “perfect” or mature (vv. 1–2). Self-control with words is a valuable measuring stick for spiritual maturity.
James gives three pictures of the tongue’s power. First, it’s like a bit in a horse’s mouth (v. 3). Though small, it controls a large animal. Second, it’s like the rudder of a ship (v. 4). Though small, it steers a large vessel. Third, it’s like a spark that starts a fire (v. 5; see Prov. 26:21). Though small, it affects a large area. The tongue is such a small thing, yet it can make “great boasts” and cause large problems.
The negative implications are made explicit (with a vengeance!) in the next verse: “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” (v. 6; see John 8:44).
Pray for Moody’s Practical Christian Ministry team—Catherine Christopher, Donald Martindell, Nathan Strand, Roberto Rivera, and Unity Ostercamp—who oversee students’ ministry at churches, nursing homes, and Christian organizations across the city.