Verse of the Day Devotion: James 3:9
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” – James 3:9
James here is this section is speaking of the tongue, specifically regarding the speech of men. He starts off with two analogies. First, he uses the illustration of a bit. “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.” James 3:2-3. Theologian Albert Barnes interprets this as follows. “The meaning of this simple illustration is, that as we control a horse by the bit – though the bit is a small thing – so the body is controlled by the tongue. He who has a proper control over his tongue can govern his whole body, as he who holds a bridle governs and turns about the horse.” And the second analogy refers to ships. “Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.” James 3:4. A ship is a large object. It seems to be unmanageable by its vastness, and it is also impelled by driving storms. Yet it is easily managed by a small rudder; and the one that has control of that, has control of the ship itself.
Now, James takes these two pictures and applies them to the human tongue. “So also, the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” James 3:5-6. Essentially, the bit and the rudder, small though they may be, are comparable to the tongue, a small part of the body that nevertheless makes great boasts. In verse 3 we see the tongue analogized and it’s impact on a community when the teachers use it wisely, just as a bit has an impact on the horse. Now, in verse 6 we see the teachers impact as a spark loose in a forest and sets the focus on the destructive impact of loose and destructive words. Now, as we see today, the tongue can be a world of iniquity as noted in verse 6. We use the term in the same sense – a world of troubles, a world of toil, a world of anxiety, for great troubles, oppressive toil, most distressing anxiety.
How can so small an organ be great trouble? By the words we speak. Remember verse 2. “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James 3:2. James here is saying that if we do not sin through what we say, we are perfect because we are able to bridle our complete self. However, if we say things we should not say, we are igniting a fire, as we see in verse 6. This begs the question; can we tame the tongue? “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by humans. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8.
Now our focus verse is an example of, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” James 3:9. Here, James points out two contrary ways we use our tongue; to bless God and to curse people. It is such a common human thing to “curse” another person that we tend to dismiss it as not that big of a deal. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a common English proverb. And yet, James explains why abusive speech is a big deal: We are cursing a being made in the image of God! Going further, “from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” James 3:10. We are called to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Cursing and insulting people or gossiping about them behind their backs is not love, it is evil and destructive. Unfortunately, these actions have become natural to people, including some who are Christians.
One last thing, in verse 8 we read, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” James 3:8. No man on his own can tame the tongue. For the tongue to be tamed, so must the heart. Jesus uses the following analogy regarding the Pharisees to bring out this point. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Matthew 12:33-34. The only way we can change our heart is to ask God to make the change. David prayed the following prayer when dealing with a transgression he was dealing with. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10. We cannot tame the tongue unless our heart is changed. Therefore, if we find ourselves speaking hurtful or harsh things to someone, call out to God and submit to His ways. He can change anything in us if we are willing to be changed.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.