See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
This isn’t about the organ we use to taste things with; it’s about speech. The Hebrew word for tongue (לָשֹׁון, la-shone) is often used as an idiom for language, just as “native tongue” is in English. Equating “tongue” with speech goes way back.
The previous passage noted the power of speech, but this one goes much further. That power is evil.
But it’s not really the power that’s evil; it’s the sinful person wielding that power. That’s the secret behind this famous quote.
“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” — Lord Acton
Brilliant, but I prefer this modern version by the author of the legendary work, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
“Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” — Edward R. Tufte
In both cases, a tool simply makes manifest what was hidden.
The corruption (sin) was always there.
The high point of this passage is, “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
James is referring to how the same tongue we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
This dual use is creepy. James wonders how this is even possible.
Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?
James is asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?” His point is that we should see this as a contradiction. That contradiction challenges the validity of when we bless our God and Father.
This is on the same level as, “Faith without works is dead.” Here, praising God is dead if we curse men with the same tongue.
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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community
The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.