James 3:8

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

In the previous verse, James spoke of the taming of “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea.” Man has subdued life on the earth so much so that he has massive elephants standing on balls in the circus, and killer whales bouncing balls off their noses in large aquariums. Other than the Loch Ness monster, which still remains rather elusive, almost every imaginable animal, bird, or sea-creature is found in some type of zoo or aquarium. These things have been tamed, or subdued. And yet, as James continues, he says that “no man can tame the tongue.”

The expression he uses is very strong in the Greek, “no one of men.” He is stating that nobody has been fully able to restrain the tongue. We have had 6000 years of human history, and yet the tongue remains unbridled and it freely wags about, causing harm to self and pain to others. As he then writes, “It is an unruly evil.” The word translated as “unruly” was introduced in James 1:8 when referring to the man who is “unstable” in all his ways. This is its last use in Scripture.

The word signifies that which is unstable or unsettled, but even those words fall short. Unruly is better. It is an almost anarchic display. The tongue casts off the rule of the mind and follows its own destructive course. This is truly evident when seeing someone shout out something totally outside of their normal character. It is as if the words sprang from hell, the source of chaos itself. What issues forth is simply uncontrolled evil, and it is “full of deadly poison.”

Here, James uses a word found elsewhere in classical Greek and in the Apocrypha, but which is found only here in Scripture. It signifies “death-bearing,” or “death-bringing.” In other words, the poison that is contained in the tongue can, and often does, lead to death. James’ words are true, both as recorded in Scripture and as has been evidenced to throughout history. A simple misuse of the tongue has landed people on the gallows or before a firing squad.

In 2 Samuel 1, an Amalekite came to David and boasted that he had killed Saul, king of Israel. His words were a lie, but he made the claim in order to ingratiate himself to David. Thinking his tongue had brought him honor, he found out that it was the bringer of death to him –

“So David said to him, ‘How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?’ 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, ‘Go near, and execute him!’ And he struck him so that he died. 16 So David said to him, ‘Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’” 2 Samuel 1:14-16

Life application: Watch your tongue.

Lord God, our tongues sure can get us into a bad patch. When we engage our mouths before engaging our brains, it can lead us into a world of hurt – both for ourselves and for those around us. Help us to stop… and then to think. Only after this, then should we open our mouths and speak. Be with us in this, O God. The tongue is an unruly evil. Help us to keep it in check – to Your glory. Amen.

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