Beware Dangerous Animals
James previously likened the tongue to a horse's bit and bridle, a ship's rudder and a fire (James 3:3-6). Now he says that our mouths can harbour a wild animal, with a poisonous bite, that cannot be tamed. That does not flatter any of us, but it is the truth. Although, like wild beasts, our tongues are not always dangerous. But they have the potential to strike unpredictably with deadly venom - like the serpent in Genesis 3:1-5 - whose poisonous lies have corrupted humanity.
James is concerned that the church members are unaware of the danger that lurks within their mouths. Although they have put their faith in Christ, their speech was still ungodly. They had peace with God through Christ (Romans 5:1) but their tongues were restless, itching to express gossip, slander and hatred. We are no different. The reason that humanity cannot tame the tongue is that we are all corrupted by sin from birth (Psalm 51:5). The tongue is incompetent to regulate itself. Although every animal trainer relies on bribing the animal with rewards, there is a restless autonomy about the tongue that refuses to be satisfied until it has done its worst.
Of course, most people are not like that most of the time. We all learn to sanitise our words, whatever our thoughts may be. But the problem is that, because our tongue is untameable, we cannot predict when we will inject poisonous words into somebody. This makes each of us potentially lethal, as we have the ability to kill truth with lies, and relationships with malice. The effect of those words may be delayed - like some snake and insect bites - but they can be fatal to relationships. Whole families, churches, businesses or civil stability can be ruined by lies, malice and gossip. James tells us to be aware and be warned. The situation is not hopeless because God has authority and power to do what we cannot (2 Timothy 1:9), to create a clean heart and renew our spirit to be like His (Psalm 51:10).
No business would knowingly employ somebody who could shatter its credibility, causing customers to stay away or produce faulty products or services. Yet everybody in your company/industry/profession is capable of doing just that! And a good track record to date is no guarantee that they might not bring shame and disgrace in the future. But Christians have an advantage; at least they know their terrible potential, and they can appeal to God for His supernatural help in dealing with the menace within. Indeed, the tongue of the Christian ought to be noticeably different from the arguing and complaining of others. It is one way of saying, 'Jesus has saved me from my old ways, and He can save you too'.
© Dr Paul Adams