Tiny but Powerful
Horse riders use a variety of bits in the animal's mouth, but the effect of all of them is to apply a little pressure on the bare 'bars' or gums of the lower jaw, between the incisors and cheek teeth. That pressure, controlled by reins, is enough to encourage the horse to turn. The effect is huge compared to the small and sensitive movements of the reins on the bridle. Likewise, the large turning effect caused by a small rudder is a well-known and essential part of ship design and seamanship. In the same way, one small spark is enough to kindle a forest fire and devastate vast areas of countryside.
James uses these three examples of disproportionate effects as metaphors for the action of the tongue. Compared to the size of the human body, the tongue is very small. Like the bit and rudder, it is hidden for most of the time. Like the spark it can start something that is almost impossible to stop. Although it is small, it can make out that it's owner is bigger and better than the truth will allow. At the same time as elevating its master, the tongue can crush other people, making them unable to function. Like the forest fire, one spark of untrue rumour can sweep through whole communities to ruin reputations and leave a legacy of mistrust.
And yet, words are God's idea, His tools. In the beginning God spoke into the darkness, and light appeared (Genesis 1:3-4). Faith is all about believing the words of God (Hebrews 11:3). Our faith in Jesus is not primarily based on a spiritual experience but by trusting what God has said (Romans 10:17). Our eternal destiny hinges on believing the Word of God and receiving Jesus (John 1:12). But Satan also uses words to bring the shadow of doubt or denial over what God has said (Genesis 3:1-5). Every temptation is a powerful inner call to disbelieve or disobey God's words (James 1:13-15). Jesus rebuked Satan's temptation to satisfy Himself in the wilderness by saying, 'It is written: "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
Words, however communicated, are very powerful indeed. They can demonstrate truth or fabricate lies. All businesses, whether trades or professions, service industry or manufacturing, depend on words to link people to action. Manipulating words, to produce a desired management or sales outcome, has become a conjurer's skill - deceiving people into trusting motives and relationships that are false, and using people like pawns on a chess board. James would have remembered that Jesus said, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No', 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the Evil One" (Matthew 5:37). If James remembered, let us not forget that our words at work can either build truth into people's lives, or wreck everything many people's actions can build. That is why we need to believe God's Word in our workplace today, changing our hearts so that we can turn people to His light.
© Dr Paul Adams