All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
James’ discussion of the tongue continues in these verses with a bit of hyperbole. While there are people who tame all sorts of animals, who can tame their tongue? Well, it isn’t easy is it?
The hyperbole, as I see it, is in suggesting that the tongue cannot be tamed at all. Taming the tongue is very difficult for most of us, but if it were impossible, what would be the point of this passage? From time-to-time folks come along who insist on a literal interpretation of everything and they sometimes object to my assertion that the Bible contains hyperbole. In the unlikely event that you are one of those, let me just politely ask you if you would take this passage to justify tossing “F-bombs” all over town… after all, the tongue cannot be tamed; “F-bombs” are normal, right?
James points out that the same mouth can both praise God and curse those made in His image and the very strong implication is that this is not an acceptable way for followers of Jesus to behave. Certainly, it is almost impossible for me to imagine Jesus doing this, and since He is our model, I think we can safely conclude that this is also not the way we should conduct ourselves.
At the risk of shocking some, I would also say that there is much more at stake here than some kind of a “violation” because we might have uttered a “forbidden” word. No, that is entirely an Old Covenant perspective of Law and violations. In Christ, things are different. Cursing our brother is not simply a “violation” of some code, it is tearing down one of God’s sacred children. It isn’t simply about one’s choice of phrasing, it’s showing disdain for someone who God loves so much that He was willing for His Son to die to save that person, and thus it is a direct affront to God Himself. It is surely not an example of love in action.
This is a pretty obvious point, and I realize that James (and I) have covered this same principle in the discussion about favoritism, so I will leave it at that. Instead, I will close by recounting something one of my instructors taught years ago that made an impression on me that has stuck with me over time. She said that the way you speak is the way you think; if your language is sloppy and undisciplined, so will your thoughts be sloppy and undisciplined. If that is the case, your reasoning will be virtually non-existent.
Something to reflect upon, perhaps?