James 3:7-12 Devotional Commentary

Too close to be tamed: Devotional Commentary for July 5-11

James 3:7-12

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.
8But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

James continues to express his concerns about the impact of uncontrolled tongue on teaching. It seems that he feels his description so far does not sufficiently account for all the detriments caused by what is communicated with a tongue that is out of alignment with the Word of God. So he carries on with his characterization of the tongue as the deadliest agent of communication in the human body.

We recall how he compared the tongue with a consuming small flame in a large forest. But now he contrastively juxtaposes it against beasts, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea and tells us how much worse the tongue could be when untamed. Mankind has been able to subdue beasts and creatures of the wild and of the sea. But no one is able to tame the tongue.

By comparing it with beasts and creatures that have been overcome by man, James effectively describes the uncommonly ruinous properties of the tongue when left to the prerogatives of a wicked heart. The tongue is intractable and uncontrollable. It is implacable and extreme in its destructive role as the agent of the depraved heart of the sin-nature. It is restless because it serves the evil purposes of a wicked heart.

9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;
10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
11Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

The tongue is one of the organs of the human body, and as such, it appears neutral and blameless because it has no intrinsic purpose of its own. However, its unqualified accessibility to the heart makes it available, flexible, and duplicitous. Consequently, both blessings and cursings flow through the tongue with unbroken continuity.

With the aid of the tongue, the heart blesses the Lord in times of prayer, in seasons of preaching the Word, on occasions of worship and singing, and during moments of nurturing and wholesome conversations. However, the same tongue expresses curses toward people who are created in the image of God, during times of indignation and disharmony. So in its role as the chief verbalizer of the heart's willful and sinful yield, the tongue serves as a duplicitous articulator of both good and evil flowing from the heart.

James says that should not be the case with Christians whose heart is captured by God's redeeming Grace. Both the duplicity and the evil yield of the wicked heart are unnatural to God's redeemed children. Even nature testifies to that reality.

Clean and polluted water do not flow from the same fountainhead. Nor does salt water yield fresh water. Fig trees do not bear olives. Nor do vines bring forth figs. These are natural things which persist according to the law which governs their state of existence. They do not do anything unnatural. Likewise, praises and curses should not proceed out of a consecrated mouth of a redeemed body which is the temple of God.


James passionately continues to speak to aspiring teachers in particular and to Christians in general, regarding the role and the influence of the tongue on the individual believer, the Christian community, and the public at large. He underscores that any and all words articulated by the tongue are consequential. He exposes the detrimental ends that could result from the unwholesome talk of an uncontrolled tongue—untamed tongue.

The tongue: the consuming small flame, the fire, a world of iniquity, the restless evil, the bearer of deadly poison which defiles the entire body and sets the course of life on fire, is also the single most powerful organ with the ability to verbalize thoughts and communicate ideas in concrete words. It is the only organ with the capability to make suggestions and manipulate language to ensure the carriage of particular intentions to specific goals. In that case, argues James, it stands to reason that the tongue could be used to advance wholesome purposes or touch off detrimental ends. Therefore, it should be controlled, and controlled well.

Since the process of teaching engages the tongue through the spoken word, James is uncompromising in his demands that the tongue should be subjected to the Authority of the Holy Spirit so that it is properly used for glorifying God and the advancement of the Gospel. The teaching office must be protected from the destructive power of an uncontrolled tongue. Neither the teacher nor the teaching office should be forsaken to face the perils of an unruly tongue.

Controlling the tongue is a spiritual mandate which is closely related to self-control. The tongue speaks what flows to it from the heart. Our heart dispenses the express will of our conscience. Our conscience responds to the Holy Spirit either in obedience or in disobedience. The conscience is where the self resides and conducts the deliberative process and triggers the executive function of the mind.

What ends up with the tongue is initiated by the self and promoted by the conscience. So the tongue is effectively controlled when the child of God exercises self-control by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who does not practice self-control under the Authority and guidance of the Holy Spirit struggles to control the tongue. For that, James recommends we seek God's wisdom and practice real faith.

If our heart is captured by God's winsome Love, and if our spirit is transformed by God's redeeming Grace, then the whole counsel of God is on our side giving us wisdom and faith to ward-off the grips of the sin-nature from our lives. To be sure, the tongue shall fall in line when self-control is truthfully and faithfully applied: so help us God!

Here at Practical Christianity Foundation we believe that God has mercifully extended His Grace toward us and has given us His living and Holy Word to guide us in our journey in this world. We count it privilege to come alongside you and minister to you through prayer and the sharing of God's living and holy Word. Please contact us if you have any questions concerning your faith and journey as a Christian.

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