The capacity of the tongue to trip up and to cause harm resides with each of us because we all have words at our disposal. Each word, improperly placed, can be an IED to a relationship and inflict serious injury to others, and bring dishonor to our Lord. This entire second take on the tongue (Jas. 3:1-12) is couched in the negative. James casts it as an incendiary device, a deadly poison, a restless evil, a world of unrighteousness.
No human being can tame the tongue. (James 3:8, ESV)
James has already touched on the topic of the tongue. In chapter one of his letter he urged us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). There we saw that our words are the weapon of choice in the hand of anger.
At the close of chapter one, James describes true religion in terms of bridling the tongue. The religious tongue is not one of lip-service that talks a good talk but the expression of true faith consecrated to Jesus Christ.
Now in chapter three James returns to the tongue, where he gives us a fuller picture of its power and potential. With this fuller picture comes a dire word of caution. It’s like those triangular warning signs on the back of tanker trucks: “DANGER! Highly Flammable.”
It’s curious how James broaches the subject: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.