Jms. 3:3-6 “Bits control large horses; pilots control huge ships with relatively small rudders. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life of fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
Like a fire raging out of control is an unrestrained tongue. Thoughtless, unkind words can do incredible damage to those who speak them, to their target and to those in their wake.
I usually think of the damage to those against whom an unrestrained tongue is directed, but it’s important to note that the speaker is also victimized, the moral character of the speaker can be corrupted by evil uses of speech including blasphemy, gossip, slander, lies, careless vows… “Set on fire by hell” may refer to Satan’s unceasing temptation to use destructive words and the resulting victory he gains when our tongue is unrestrained.
The broken bones caused by sticks and stones are nothing compared to the broken hearts and lives resulting from evil uses of the tongue including bullying, slander, gossip. Just recently in the news we are hearing of younger and younger teens committing suicide, no longer able to endure the words hurled at them.
Hurtful, harmful words have been cast at me. I have been accused of worshipping Satan by offering someone’s newborn baby as a sacrifice! As a result of those accusations several families withdrew their friendship, even though they knew me well. My opportunity to love them and encourage their growth in Christ was ended. I could never understand how they could possibly believe such outrageous lies. I think it was Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who said, “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.”
Those are more dramatic examples of the harm done but everyone’s life has been negatively affected in one way or another, to one degree or another, by tongues out of control. Often we are unaware of what is being said; we simply know that someone’s behavior toward us changes and we don’t know why.
Sometimes we are made aware of what is being said, maybe out of kindness, maybe not. Then we must choose a response. Hopefully we know who we are – and whose we are. If we are confident in the love of Christ and the fact that he sees us as precious, we can find comfort in him and courage to face life no matter what anyone says to us or about us. He wants to provide that depth of security for us.
“Let your speech always be full of grace…” Col. 4:6 Speech that’s full of grace allows plenty of room for differences of appearance, perspective, political opinion, theological viewpoint. Speech that is full of grace will never condemn sin in someone else because the full-of-grace person is painfully aware they could never pick up the first stone, being so prone to sin themselves.
Speech that is full of grace draws people in, overlooking differences and even sin, in order to establish relationship that God might use for his purposes. The time may come for speaking of the sin in the life of another and challenging them to repentance, but never with speech that is less than full of grace.