If the eyes are the window of the soul, then the mouth is the exhaust vent. In Matthew 12:34-35, Jesus puts it this way, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” With piercingly accurate evaluation, Jesus described the source of all of the evil things a man says – the heart. Not too many people recognize this or live with this reality. It is not uncommon to hear the flailing apology of someone famous who has been called on the carpet for an action or a statement that they regrettably have been caught saying or doing. It often sounds something like this, “I just want to say to all of my fans that I am sorry that I said this horrible thing, I don’t know what I was thinking. It isn’t me to say something like that…” However, as they apologize, it becomes abundantly clear that they do not understand the truth of which Jesus spoke. The fact that they said the horrendous thing demonstrates precisely who they are. They may deny it, but the facts are in, from the abundance of their heart, their mouth spoke.
And when the sin of our hearts becomes the sin of our lips, there is very little that we can do to stop the damage that we have done. We don’t have access to the Men In Black little flashy thing, so once our words go out, they cannot be taken back. For this reason, James uses two pictures to illustrate the tongue. The first is that of a fire. The tongue starts out as a biting little flame, but once it casts its enflaming spark on the heart of another, the ravaging fire burns out of control. There is no amount of “I didn’t mean to say that,” that will ever heal all of the damage done by the fire of our tongues. The other picture James uses is that of a wild beast. Recently the news has carried a couple stories of people or children tragically falling into exhibits at the zoo. The zoo may have been able to take the animal out of the wild, but they were never able to take the wild out the animal, and the poor victims felt the consequence of the wild animals. Our words similarly can bite and devour, leaving nothing but destruction behind.
The tongue was made for worship of God, not the destruction of man. When we depart from using our tongues for anything but the glory of God, we often deteriorate into lesser forms of speaking. The beauty of James’s illustrations is that both the flame and the wild beast can be tamed. The flame can be controlled and used for something good: cooking and heating. The beast can be tamed, and brought in to work for the one who tamed it. Similarly, all hope is not lost for the one who has an unruly mouth. We do not simply dismiss him as being useless and worthless. Rather, as a sinner, he needs to use his mouth to repent and he needs to turn in faith to God. Instead of using his mouth for destruction, he can use his mouth for worship. However, before the tongue can ever be healed of its sin-cancer, the heart must be changed. Apart from the inner-working of the Holy Spirit by the Word of God, the filthy mouth will continue to pollute and putrefy, but if the Holy Spirit comes in and cleanses, then the purification of the heart can happen and the tongue can be cleansed. The fire and the beast can be tamed for good uses, and the tongue can be purified for its original God-ordained design.
Food For Thought: What was the tongue created by God to do? How can our sinful tongues be fixed?