Did you ever think of your tongue as a fire from Hell? What about a deadly poison? Those are the words James used to describe our tongues. If you think about the damage words can inflict, those analogies are fitting.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. – James 3:6-8, ESV
The fact of the matter is that our words do cause great damage to the Church and within the Church. We’re commanded in other places to be edifying with our words, to be gentle, to be loving. However, we all too often unleash words to damage and hurt. This is true whether we’re talking our families, our church families, or even to complete strangers. When we use words as weapons, then James’ description is appropriate.
What makes things worse is even if we’ve got a good hold on other things, so often we slip up and say things that harm and destroy. We speak without thinking. We shout forth words driven by extreme emotion – usually anger or pain. That’s why James described the tongue like a beast no human being can tame. We can’t think we’ve got our tongues under control and go about our business. We have to be constantly on guard for the words that boil up and threaten to come forth.
We are commanded to try and reach peace with everyone. One of the biggest opponents of that peace is the tongue. The reality is we won’t always catch ourselves before we say something akin to hellfire. We need to plan. Are there certain people that get under your skin? Think about how to handle them. Develop plans to keep from getting heated and saying something without thinking. Are there certain people with whom you find yourself looser in your speech? Why is that? How can you protect your words? Does it require separation from those people? Is it even possible?
We also need the Holy Spirit’s power. As good as our plans are, they are only as successful as we are. We’re not. God is. We need His power to be as vigilant as possible with our words. We need his power when we catch ourselves but our emotions cause us to want to spew forth with poison to harm and maim. We need the Holy Spirit for daily living and our words are no exception.