James has a lot to say about the tongue and I believe it’s because he wants us to remember that the gift of speech comes from God. The first thing we learn about God from the Scriptures is that He speaks – into the darkness God said, “Let there be light.” The Bible tells us we’ve been created in God’s image. Part of that image is the ability to speak. One of the first things God called Adam to do was to name the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Now it didn’t take long for Satan to tempt Adam and Eve with speech. His whispers caused them to doubt the truthfulness of God’s words. And since the Fall, the human tongue has been a battleground between the forces of good and evil. It is with an eye to this battleground that James challenges the immature Christian whose faith remains childish and, consequently, whose tongue remains untamed. According to James, real faith changes things – even the way we speak.
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.