James 3:3-6 3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
The last thing you need is a shipwreck
Alright, thank you James – tell us how you really feel. Geesh! Set on fire by hell? Isn’t that just a little over the top? I guess the guy really drives the point home though. The tongue is a powerful thing. It has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). We also know that the tongue speaks out what is going on the inside (Luke 6:45). But the tongue is the ultimate security checkpoint. It is the last line of defense. Let’s say you are in a fight. Okay I know that no one ever has a fight (insert sarcasm here), but just pretend with me for a moment. Your worthy opponent – otherwise known as “spouse” – has given the death blow to your argument. But then it comes, the perfect comeback. It is a good one too, it will certainly cut him/her to the core. It is a hit below the belt, an attack on character, and will surely end the discussion. So here it comes out of the heart, into the mind, and has one more checkpoint to get through: the tongue. What will you do? Will the tongue let death come out or will self-control win out? I think it all comes down to a matter of practice. Say what?
Yes, practice. Does your tongue have life-giving training? Has it learned to be a good security guard? Let’s go with James’ boat analogy for a moment. When I was in my early twenties I spent a lot of time on the water. My parents had a ski boat that they let me take out with friends whenever I wanted to. What were they thinking? Anyhow, I was a good driver. I could safely navigate the waters, pick up a skier, do water donuts… er, I mean drive calmly and responsibly. The hardest part of driving the boat in my opinion, however, is the docking part. You know, that’s when you are coming to the dock and you have to make that smooth parallel parking kind of approach. Here’s a boat that only goes in forward and reverse, yet you have to figure out how to come in sideways. And I was good. Why was I good? Practice. But all that practice came in calm waters. If I would have tried to learn in windy conditions, I would have blown it every time. But practicing in calm conditions enabled me to master the landing even in the wind. Now recently I was driving a boat and was very out of practice. My dock landing wasn’t so pretty. I could have used some practice.
Now back to the awesomely bad fight and the amazing comeback nearing your lips. You are in choppy waters now. The winds are blowing and there is a storm raging on the waters of life. Did you learn how to steer the boat when the waters were calm? Have you learned to develop your finesse with the rudder when the conditions were good? I suggest that if you haven’t learned to control what comes out of that mouth when things are calm that you get a start on it. Because when the winds start blowing and the storm starts raging, your boat is going to be all over the place. And the last thing you need right now is a shipwreck.