Tongues from Hell
James likened the effect of people's tongues to a horse's bit, a ships rudder and a spark (James 3:3-5). All these are very small in comparison with the huge effect they can produce. Words are far more powerful than most people think. But where do the bad words come from? After the Fall, every human being except Jesus has been born with a corrupted human nature (Psalm 51:5). It is an unruly power-house within us, seeking to control our desires and decisions. However, it is deep-buried. We know little about it except when it expresses itself through our actions or by what we say (Matthew 15:18). Alas, those words provide other people with inspiration and excuses to perpetuate the evil in their own lives. The effect of wrong words expressed and believed is as destructive as a fire.
Whenever the fire of Hell is mentioned in the Bible, it is never used carelessly or as an expletive, but as a serious warning (Luke 16:23-24). Hell is the English translation of Gehenna (Aramaic for the Valley of Hinnom). This is a place, south of Jerusalem, where child sacrifices were offered in the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:31). In Jesus' day, it was the city rubbish tip which was perpetually alight with a fire ready to engulf the next load of garbage. Jesus Christ used it to illustrate the fate of those who reject Him, a vivid Bible picture of destruction and undying agony (Mark 9:43). In this passage James warns that the tongue has the potential to be ignited by evil.
The tongue is a vent to the heart, letting out the flames within (Luke 6:45). James is even stronger in his analogy, saying that evil words are like demonically inspired sparks which kindle fires, destroying relationships, perverting justice and breaking down trust. These fires of envy and hate consume whatever is standing in their way. That is just what Satan intends. His objective is to wreck God's world and His people - preventing them from enjoying what is good and seducing them to invest in evil. But, most of the time, inflamed and virulent human tongues do his work for him! This letter was written to be read in churches, where people had turned to Christ, but their tongues were still expressing their unsanctified hearts. This should not happen, but it does (James 3:9-10), which is why James is alerting us to the danger.
Each day at work will have a variety of outcomes. Hopefully, you will be paid! You will be able to meet the needs of others through the goods or services you sell. Your work should also increase the profitability of the company and the country. New products and mutual networks can be developed, and you should be able to enjoy your work too. But there is another set of outcomes that may be more critical - relationships. What you listen to will affect your desires and words; and the way that you talk will influence all who hear. Their course of life, and eternity, may be shaped by what they hear you say at work – more than you have ever thought. It is time to repent of careless talk (Matthew 12:36) and ask the Lord for a godly heart and tongue (Proverbs 10:31-32).
© Dr Paul Adams