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A Tight Leash

FAITH AT WORK: Devotions through the book of James

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.” (James 3:7–8, ESV) 

My seminary curriculum required me to learn Hebrew and Greek so that I could study the Bible in its original languages. Part of that study involved learning vocabulary. To help me I would use mnemonic devices like word association. For example, a Hebrew word for “forgive” is nasa’. I would associate NASA and think of a rocket launching a sin into space, separating the sinner from the sin. I remembered the Hebrew word for tongue, lashon, by relating it to a “tongue lashing,” a severe scourging with words. 

We can employ the same mnemonic to understand the lesson James has for us regarding the tongue. We can use our speech to lash out at someone or we can keep it restrained on a leash

One thing is for certain, we can never let our tongue run wild. 

Some people are not satisfied with having a cat or dog as a pet. They want something more unusual. Some have befriended a wolf or a bobcat from birth. They show pictures of these animals snuggling and being non-threatening. The problem is these animals retain their wild disposition and become unpredictable. 

Our tongues are like that. They can snap out at any time and do great damage. That’s why we can never let our guard down. And the thing is we do not bring our tongues into our house. They are already in the door. Our responsibility is to guard them. 

James, however, speaks of more than restraint. He notes the potential of the tongue to generate both blessing and cursing. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:9-10). 

Here James is calling on us to govern our tongues according to righteousness. If we belong to the kingdom of God, having hearts brought to bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, then we must direct our tongues toward righteousness and peace. Our tongues are not to be attack dogs protecting our own domain but are to be service dogs for loving God and neighbor. 

1. What does the way you speak of others say about your allegiance to Christ?

2. Why do you suppose God is so concerned with our words? 

“Father, You are God of the Word. You spoke creation into being. Day to day pours forth speech. You caused Your word to be written down and by it we are instructed and edified. Help me to honor you with my words in how I treat all others.”

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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