“We’re in the library, and we can see the flames right outside!” She was scared. We could hear it in her voice. We know her voice—the voice of our daughter. At the same time we knew her college campus was the safest place for her and her almost 3,000 fellow students. The 2018 Woolsey Fire spread more quickly than anyone anticipated—most of all fire personnel. The record heat and dry conditions in the California canyon, along with the legendary Santa Ana winds, were all the rather small sparks needed to ultimately burn 97,000 acres, destroy more than 1,600 structures, and kill three people. In the photos taken after the fire was contained, the usual lush coastline resembled the barren surface of the moon.
In the book of James, the author names some small but powerful things: “bits [in] the mouths of horses” and the rudders of ships (3:3–4). And while familiar, these examples are somewhat removed from us. But then he names something a little closer to home, something small that every human being possesses—a tongue. And while this chapter is first directed specifically to teachers (v. 1), the application quickly spreads to each of us. The tongue, small as it is, can lead to disastrous results.
Our small tongues are powerful, but our big God is more powerful. His help on a daily basis provides the strength to rein in and guide our words.
Jesus, I’ve been on the receiving end of words that burn. And my words have hurt others. Help me to keep a tight rein on my tongue.
To learn more about the book of James, visit christianuniversity.org/nt336.
In the New Testament letter of James, the author describes as useless a religion that can’t control the tongue (1:26), but later he adds that no one can tame the tongue (3:8). What is James saying? Because he’s writing as a servant of Christ (1:1), he may be recalling what Jesus said when He reminded the religious leaders of His day that it’s out of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). It’s our hearts, not just our words, that need to come under the control of a Source beyond ourselves. At the end of chapter 3, he contrasts a wisdom of self-centeredness with wisdom that is peace-loving, gentle, considerate, merciful, and good—a spirituality of heart, word, and action resonating from the life-changing Spirit of Jesus (3:17–18).