Does the Tongue Have a Bad Rap?

James is not shy about stating his opinion.  He does not beat around the bush, he just lets you have it. Here is what he writes about the tongue:

The 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. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man 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 men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.  James 3:6–10

Those are strong words. But are they really true?

Yes, indeed, James presents valid points. Obviously, people in James’ day, just like people today, say things they shouldn’t. We do praise and curse with the same mouth. So those accusations are true – as long as we do not take the term too literally. Really – Can a simple muscle be responsible for that much evil? The tongue does not have a brain or soul of its own, it is dependent upon the other parts of the body.

So then why the bad rap?

The tongue is what gives us our ability to form words and communicate. It it invaluable in our consumption of food. We could not exist without it.

The tongue is also the messenger. It does not act on its own, even though sometimes it sure seems like it.

Have you ever said something quickly before you thought about it and then regretted it? Followed quickly by that chasm that suddenly opens in your abdomen as your stomach dropped through the floor? Of course. We all have.

So then, if our tongue is relaying a message that we have not thought about, where did the message initiate?

Our heart.

Everyone loves the heart. Girls draw heart symbols on their notebooks. The heart symbol represents love and warm feelings.

But is not that same heart the one responsible for what comes out of the mouth – both good and bad? Does it not symbolically and metaphysically house the true governor of our bodies – our spirit? Is that not the area of the body in which we feel emotion? As we mature, the brain acts as a filter, sometimes against powerful emotions, to prevent us from spewing each bit of mud. But deep inside, we sometimes have those evil urges, and they originate not on the tongue but inside, from the deepest recesses of our soul.

As Jesus taught:

First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too! Mt 23:26

Eugene Peterson sheds a broader light on James’ point:

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. Jas 3:5–6

So, as James calls us to holiness, the question still remains:

Why does James blame the tongue only and not also the heart, mind, or our soul?

What do you think?

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