Please turn in the Bible to the place where it is written: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”
In its design, the tongue is typical of God’s awesome handiwork. A unique muscle … attached on one end … loose on the other. One end rooted in the physical, the other breaching that mystical gap between the souls of men. One end anchored, the other unchecked and free … free to bless … free to curse.
The tongue is a fire, fueled by the soul of Man. It can warm, heal, and strengthen. It can scorch and consume, bringing pain and suffering. It powerfully expresses the soul and mind of Man. Its every move is permanently recorded in heaven.
Isaiah struggled with an awareness of his sinfulness when he was confronted with the holy presence of God, and he described his sinfulness primarily in the context of his speech. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Is 6:5) When left to himself to imagine what God was like, his speech did not appear to trouble him. Those careless and froward with the tongue reveal that they have never come to know a holy God, are walking in self-deception, and worship God in vain. (Jas 1:26) When Isaiah came to a revelation of the true holiness of God, he was undone in contrition for his sinful speech.
Every Idle Word
“Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Mt 12:36) There are no private words … words spoken merely to a restricted audience. It is not a question of who will hear your words, but when they will be heard. All of your words will be heard at the judgement, and will be the final record of who you are: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Mt 12:37)
Death and Life
The power of the tongue is profound. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Pr 18:21a) It can bring incredible comfort and health. “I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should asswage your grief.” (Job 16:5) It can also break a soul in pieces, and vex a soul to death. “How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?” (Job 19:2) This is a worthy question for those who love the power of their tongue; such shall eat its fruit: “they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Pr 18:21b)
Set on Fire of Hell
The greatest discourse on the tongue paints a violent picture of it. We do well to study this thoroughly and arm ourselves against the wrath to come.
1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the
2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same
is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
If we can control our tongues, then we can control any other member of our frame. The tongue is the most difficult to tame, perhaps because it takes so very little effort to obtain our objectives with it. Would you bottle the viscious venting of the soul? Master a volcano first.
3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.
The size of this toungue is deceiving. Do not measure its power by its size but by its strategic placement. As the bridle, as the helm, the tongue achieves the direction of the soul. Capture the tongue and capture all.
5 Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
Unchecked, the tiny flame becomes a tremendous conflagration. The only difference is the availability of proper fuel. Remove the fuel to conquer the flame. To conquer the fire of the tongue, the source of the fuel must be separated from the blaze.
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
The tongue is a fire kindled in the soul, corrupting and polluting our entire temporal existence and affecting many souls about us. Its fuel is the innnate wickedness of the soul, and its spark is rooted in hell itself.
7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
We make tremendous efforts to learn the ways of the created realm and to tame its most unruly members. We have been quite successful.
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
As a rule, we make no such efforts with the tongue. When we do, we generally fail miserably. Of the abundance of our heart our mouth speaks. Taming our tongue is taming ourselves
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
We draw nigh to God with our tongues, and honor Him with our lips, but our heart is far from Him. We fashion a god after ourselves to worship, while we curse those about us who are made in His image.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Either make the tree good, and his fruit good, or make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt. The tree ought to be good, and its fruit.
11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
We deceive ourselves in thinking we can both bless God and curse those He loves.
13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
Yes, good speach must come from a wise and good heart, “for of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Lk 6:45) As your heart seeks to love and bless others, speak only to edify another, “Let no corrupt communication procede out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Eph 4:29) Think carefully and soberly about what you say, and let your words be chosen wisely: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Pr 25:11)
Such thought will often lead to silence.. yea, let it be so, rather than idle chatter. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” (Jas 1:19) Even in prayer, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few .” (Ec 5:2) No, much speaking does not impress the Father in prayer; it is the world that thinks “they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Mt 6:7) Rather, true religion, in prayer and conduct, is marked by a deliberate and carefully controlled tongue: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (Jas 1:26)
A good conversation, that is the fruit of a wise and understanding heart. As God renews our hearts and minds, as God fashions us into the image of His Son, as His workmanship manifests in our lives, it will be seen in the fruit of our lips. Yes, let our tongues be holy, laid on the alter, salted with salt, filled with grace and baptized with the fire of the holiness of God.