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. (NIV)
In the darkest days of World War Two, Winston Churchill held a nation together with his words. As the US civil rights movement gained momentum, the words of Martin Luther King ensured it continued in the right direction. Then again, the words of Adolf Hitler inspired numbers of ordinary people to either do evil or turn a blind eye to it. The seductive words of James Jones persuaded 913 of his followers to kill themselves. Words are powerful weapons for good or evil.
James makes this point when he says that the human tongue can bless God or curse people. The same mouth that sings praises to God on Sundays can spread malicious gossip on Mondays. The same mouth that preaches the true word of God from the pulpit can demolish individuals in the privacy of the home. James points out the logical absurdity of this.
He implies that our speech is the barometer of what is going on inside. Our good and helpful speech says something positive about us. Our cruel and unhelpful speech says something critical about us. Encouraging speech springs from an affirming heart. Malicious speech springs from a hateful heart.
So, if we are to make any attempt to tame the tongue, we must deal with the human heart. To simply shut our mouths is to treat the symptoms of our malaise, not the problem itself. Biting our tongues is no substitute for changing our hearts.