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Religious Writings: The Destruction of Tongue Essay

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Updated: Jul 28th, 2022

Introduction

In one of the most critical passages of the Bible, James writes, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (NIV, Jam. 3.6). It is a harrowing warning regarding the power of words and their connection to sin. The tongue can be used for both good and evil, and sin always seeks to corrupt and drive souls into damnation.

Despite the common misconception that actions matter more than words, it is with words that humans communicate, express emotion, and exchange information. Words are just as powerful in their ability to betray, to hurt, to curse but also to heal, to love, and to bless. In this passage, James warns of carefully controlling ‘the tongue’ as words cannot be taken back and emphasizes that just as the soul cannot be both good and evil, once certain boundaries are crossed with one’s words – it is a path to damnation through the very corruption by the tongue.

Origins of the Tongue

The destruction of tongue is as old as sin itself. It is an inherent part of human nature to speak, to express thoughts and feelings. God created the extraordinary gift of the human language, alongside the complexity of the vocal and mental capacities to use it. As God said to Moses, “Who hath made man’s mouth?… have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Exodus 4.11-12). The gift of language and tongue was given so that He could reveal His Word and Will to humans, and we could respond back in faith and praise (Morris).

All humans, at one point, have spoken without thought, on instinct or emotion and, as a result, created consequences for themselves and others stemming from words. From the early days, the faithful realized the power of the tongue and also the role of general faith in controlling it. David prays, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141.3) while Paul emphasizes the sins of the tongue, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips” (Rom. 3.13).

More harm is potentially done by the tongue than any other sin, through gossiping, slandering, cursing, and other foul means, leading to sins against one another and God. One of the primary issues is that many people do not realize it or see it as a terrible sin, once again dismissing the value of words. As a result, they continue to do so, which creates spiritual pain and desolation of the soul, as well as the inevitable condemnation from the Lord upon Judgment (Sole).

Background of James

Saint James, also called the Lord’s Brother, was a Christian apostle and later the leader of Jerusalem Christians. James was not a follower of Jesus and was not one of the original Twelve Apostles during His public ministries, but supposedly converted after Christ’s resurrection. There is a widespread belief that James is biologically related to Jesus as a younger half-brother or cousin. James became a critical figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem after Peter, the leader of the Church, had to flee after assassination attempts by Herod Agrippa. The Epistle of James has been traditionally attributed to him, but there is some controversy in theological scholarship (Pavao).

James was referred to by Paul as one of the ‘pillars’ of the church alongside Cephas and John the Apostle. James also garnered the name James the Just because of his rumored great righteousness as well as ascetic practices as a Nazirite (Pavao). Therefore, being placed in a position of influence early on being close to the Twelve Apostles, James likely realized the burden and responsibility of being a teacher. He argues that teachers are tested more and judged more strictly. However, he realizes the imperfection of man and calls for accountability. As a leader, religious figure, he knew that he must not only preach but lead by example just as Jesus did.

James’s Epistle consisting of five chapters is an extended element of pastoral teaching. His goal is to lead the followers to spiritual maturity so that their whole being is one with Christ. The third chapter focusing on spiritual maturity as evidenced by the use of tongue, demonstrates one of the clearest indicators of a Christian, to master the tongue is to master oneself. How people use their ‘tongues’ usually demonstrates clearly where they are spiritually, so James attempts to preach and teach that to reach maturity. A mature person can ‘bridle’ their tongue and become the master of the whole body (sometimes viewed by scholars as the Church) and faith (Ferguson). It is a practice and position that James sought through his faith and taught to his followers.

Controlling the Tongue

In this chapter, James comes to the realization that the tongue is so wild, it cannot be tamed even when humans have learned to tame the wildest of animals. He says, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3.8). It is perhaps implied that there is no possibility of achieving perfection, and even those who are fully spiritually mature will slip at one point. However, it is a burden and a challenge for Christians, to strive towards being like Jesus. Even though the tongue cannot be tamed, it can be controlled through willpower, wisdom, and faith.

In the verse itself, James outlines three principles which, if understood, can lead to the spiritual maturity and first steps necessary to control the tongue. These are recognizing that people are accountable for what they say (both in this world and in judgment by God), recognizing that the tongue has power for good and evil, and fundamental understanding that the tongue cannot be tamed. Accountability is important, thus James discussing the role of the teacher and apostle, where the use of tongue is necessary, but they are judged more strictly.

Recognizing that judgment will come for one’s words is the first step. Written in the Book of Matthew, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat. 12.36-37). Jesus indicates that even though actions reveal a person’s genuine faith, the words either validate it or highlight that one is far from God. Even when one stumbles in speech, then forgiveness must be asked from those who are hurt and God (Cole).

Understanding the power of words of the use of good and evil similarly stems from the concept of accountability. As stated, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12.18). The use of words indicates intention and the true inner state. Also, by recognizing the inherent influence of the words on others and the world around, if one is spiritually mature, one would be able to better judge and use the tongue wisely.

Finally, recognizing the fact that the tongue is untamable is crucial, particularly James is referring to the fact that cannot be tamed by humans but rather needs to be tamed by God. Therefore, by taking this into consideration, one should not resort to human means or judgment, but rather trust in God. The spirituality of the faith and the Holy Spirit will allow to combat this horrible monster that is within each person. It is with the Holy Spirit and faith that Christians receive the fruit of the Spirit such as love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. To tame the tongue, one must walk with the Spirit with obedience to Christ, achieving that level of spiritual maturity needed to control it (Cole).

Application to Modern Day

Contemporary society, of course, differs significantly from the world that James lived in. However, language remains a critical aspect of communication and relationships between human beings. Furthermore, with the advent of technology, the “tongue” has taken on new forms such as chatting from behind and screen and other forms of language communication. It is evident that when speaking about the “tongue,” James refers not only to oral speech but any type of communication with others. Understanding James’s teachings about how words can help or hurt, and brings new consideration for the use of communication both wisely and ethically (Still).

In fact, recent sociopolitical events have demonstrated the powerful influence of language. For example, movements for racial justice have highlighted how certain terminology may be hurtful, while the inflammatory language of political leaders drives people to irrational behavior and mentality. Language is being used increasingly more and more to hurt others and raise oneself up, usually based on particular sets of beliefs and emboldened by the use of technology. No man is perfect, but based on the warnings made by James, those who are truly Christian will control their tongue regardless of differences and practice spiritual maturity and civil discussion, which promotes collaboration and peace in society.

Works Cited

Cole, Steven, J. “Bible. Web.

Ferguson, Sinclair. “DesiringGod. 2008. Web.

Morris, Henry. “The Mystery of Human Language.” Institute for Creation Research. 2001. Web.

Pavao, Paul F. “The Death of James the Just, Brother of Jesus Christ.” Christian History for Everyman, 2014. Web.

Sole, Jim. “.” Quidnessett Baptist Church. 2016. Web.

Still, Todd D. “Center for Christian Ethics, 2012. Web.

The Bible. . Bible Getaway. Web.

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