A seminary classmate of mine told of a teenage adventure he had with a buddy one summer afternoon. They were prowling through the attic when they came upon a box filled with the leftovers of his father’s military career. Towards the bottom of the box, they found two hand grenades — pins still in place and apparently still armed. Their curiosity would not be contained.
Down the stairs they went and out to the backyard. They quickly located post-hole diggers and dug a hole as deep as they could. They then took a deep breath, pulled the pin, tossed the grenade in the hole, quickly covered it with some dirt from their excavation, and ran for cover behind the garage. And they waited — but not for long.
The concussion from the explosion took their breath away, blew out windows in the garage and house, and was followed quickly by the explosion from his mother running out of the house — “WHAT HAPPENED?…” (He never said what his father did when he came home…)
Mark learned that day that the power of an unexploded grenade is best left contained by its pin and that when unleashed in the wrong setting, it has destructive powers beyond the conception of a 13-year-old.
However, James tells us of another force that is even more powerful and deadly than a hand grenade in the possession of our enemy. It is the 3-ounce membrane possessed by every human being — the tongue. Notice what James says about this deadly weapon (James 3):
- It boasts of great things (v. 5)
- It sets on fire the course of our life (v. 6)
- It is set on fire by hell (v. 6)
- It is untamable (v. 8)
- It is a restless evil and full of deadly poison (v. 8)
- It produces both blessing and cursing (v. 10)
When used without care, the tongue is a deadly force. It must be contained and controlled because like the bit in a horse’s mouth or the rudder on a ship, the tongue will direct the course of one’s life (vv. 2-4).
How then is this slippery slab controlled so that ungodly and careless words do not slip past the lips with such ease? James doesn’t directly state the corrective, but he infers it in verses 11-12:
“Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”
To control the tongue, one must go to the source. If one wants figs, he must plant a fig tree and if he wants fresh water, he must dig a well. And if someone wants gracious and godly words, he must have his heart cleansed. Jesus gave the clear diagnosis for the sinful disease of ungodly speech:
“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:43–45)
In other words, the problem with our tongues is not physical but spiritual. A tongue problem always reveals a heart problem. So people will sometimes say after launching a damaging verbal assault, “I didn’t mean that…” To which Jesus would say, “Yes, you did. Your words are a reflection of your heart, and your words have revealed the fruit of your most recent meditation.”
So we won’t learn to control out tongues by learning a few principles about speaking. When our tongues are destructively out of control it reveals that we not controlled by the Spirit of God and what we need is to have reformation in our hearts. The key to tongue control is learning to fill the mind and heart with the truth of God. Then when the heart is passionate for God’s truth and controlled by God’s Word, then the tongue will produce similar words of grace.