Today’s Reading: James 3:1-12
I write these Morning Coffee devotionals because God told me to write them. Originally it was a way for me to be held spiritually accountable to my team. My goal has been to simply share what God is teaching me – to share out of the overflow of my daily time in His presence. I see myself as more of a student of the Word than a teacher. I pray God has used “my morning coffee” in your life; that there have been moments when God was teaching both of us and speaking to both of us through His Spirit as we studied God’s word together.
Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. – James 3:1-2
Controlling our tongue – Oh, how I wish I had this perfected! This is the area I find myself messing up time and time again. It’s not easy, which is the point James is making here. He uses three comparisons to help us understand the difficulty of controlling the tongue and the importance of conquering this area of our life.
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. – James 3:3
Last summer we were visiting with friends in Tennessee. We got up on Monday morning and went to get the horses from the far field so the girls could ride them. The horses were getting pretty feisty with each other and didn’t seem too fond of the idea of having the saddles and gear placed on them. When Todd went to put their bridals on and place the bits in their mouths, the horses clamped down and refused to open their mouths. Todd showed me how God created horses with a place in their mouth that doesn’t have teeth – a place where he can place his thumb and force the horse to open his mouth so the bit can be put into place. Once the bits were in place, the horses calmed and cooperated with their riders. The girls were able to keep the horse’s head high and control whether the horse turned or went straight, simply because of the bit and harness.
And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. – James 3:4-5a
The tongue may be small but it is mighty. It can set the course of our life, determining the direction of relationships. It can do both good and harm. What we say may seem insignificant but it has the power to speak kind words of encouragement or harsh words of condemnation.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. – James 3: 5b-12
First, James compares the tongue to the bit in the mouth of a horse that controls the direction of the large animal. He also compared it to the small rudder that steers the large ship. Then he finishes the thought by describing how the tongue is like a spark that can destroy the whole forest. The tongue is small but powerful, and cannot be tamed, it says so in verse 8. We can tame animals but we cannot tame the destructive potential of the tongue. So what do we do with that? If the tongue can steer the course of our life and destroy everything in its path yet cannot be controlled, where is hope?
Did anyone else feel convicted in verses 9 & 10? I don’t want to be the person who is praising God one minute and the next minute speaking unkindly about someone God loves enough to die for. I don’t want my tongue doing the work of Satan, finding its source in Hell. I want something different. But these verses are saying that I cannot just determine to do better and change old habits if I cannot tame my tongue. Again, where is the hope?
Beth Moore [Mercy Triumphs] points us to Acts 2:1-4 for the answer:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
And therein we find the hope. I don’t have to try harder. What I need to do is take that step of letting God truly be LORD of my life – He’s in charge, I am a part of His story. At the point when I truly surrender to Him, He fills me with His Spirit and I begin to speak in foreign ways – ways that are different from my old speech patterns, ways that cannot be taught but could only be the result of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in my life. Now there’s hope!
Lord, I give you control of my heart and my speech today. Please give me a fresh filling of your Spirit and may your praise always be on my lips! Give me the right words to say and a heart that desires to only bless and do your work with my words. I love you, Lord. Amen.