This week I want us to look at one verse and in particular one word.
No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8
We’ve already learned that our words mirror the state of our heart. As we listen to what we say, we get a glimpse of what our heart is really like – and sometimes we cringe at our own words, don’t we?
The verse quoted above says that the tongue is ‘full of deadly poison’. James is speaking about an undisciplined tongue that spews harsh, angry, sarcastic, hurtful and profane words without compunction. He’s talking about his own tongue, Peter’s tongue, Daniel’s tongue, Isaiah’s tongue, Abraham’s tongue, King David’s tongue…and your tongue and my tongue.
So let’s talk about that word ‘poison’.
Poison destroys. In order to injure, cripple or paralyze members of the Body of Christ, the enemy of our souls appeals to our fallen nature to speak words that our full of deadly poison; i.e. to say things that make other people look bad and feel bad. That’s the currency he trades in – words that kill. Didn’t the Lord say ‘The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy…’ John 10:10?
The old saying, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is utterly false! Words can do far more damage to the human soul than physical violence.
Because the Word of God tells us that the tongue is ‘full of deadly poison’, it follows that the degree to which we say unkind, hurtful and negative things to and about other people is the degree to which we have an undisciplined and un-Christlike tongue.
Speaking without thinking is tantamount to swallowing deadly poison, writes R.T. Kendall. It is almost like committing spiritual suicide.
So, how do we poison others? When we speak harshly, sarcastically, profanely, unkindly to other people it is tantamount to giving them poison to ingest. Poison can make you deathly ill, or kill you. There are too many people walking around today deeply wounded inside from the ‘blows’ of another person’s tongue. They may look alive on the outside but their emotional person inside is bleeding and perhaps dying slowly because of verbal abuse.
It really doesn’t matter whether the person you’re speaking to is old or young, saved or lost, red, yellow, black or white, each person is made in the image and likeness of God. Mark Twain once wrote: ‘Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.’
Never assume that people are unmoved or untouched by what you say. They may cover it up but your negative or harsh words leave an internal scar. People who appear to take everything in stride and therefore we think they’re thick-skinned are often the most sensitive of all. Even Jesus was affected by what people said. The only difference between Him and us is that He was able to handle it without sinning.
Secondly, it’s not just what we say to people but what we say about them behind their back that emits a poison. Gossip and slander poison the attitude of others towards the person you’re talking about and it poisons your own soul because gossip and slander are sins. And here’s something else to remember: Don’t assume that what you say about someone will never get back to them. More often than not, it does and that never ends well.
What about those ugly or unpleasant things that people say to you? You have a choice. Will you drink the poison? In other words, will you take it to heart and get angry, resentful, bitter? Or fall into the trap of shame, guilt and self-condemnation?
Or will you make the godly choice to forgive quickly lest the poison make you spiritually ill? You may say, “I forgive but I can’t forget what they said.” That’s understandable but not an excuse for holding a grudge or staying angry. The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. James 1:20
So what do you do if you find it difficult to forget what was said? Maintain a forgiving spirit, remembering the forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. When the thoughts try to get you down, put on some praise and worship music, get busy with a worthwhile activity or find something to distract you from the devil’s attempt to chain you to anger or depression.
The whole purpose of James’ letter to the early disciples – and to us – is to change lives, to help us in practical ways as we seek to become more like Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds.
We react with horror when we hear that someone committed suicide by drinking poison or murdered someone else by poisoning their food. As tragic as those situations are, there is something more tragic that affects all of us. A holy fear and awe of the LORD calls us to be utterly serious in disciplining our tongues that words of life, peace and encouragement would be the currency in our relationships with others.
‘The words that I speak to you are spirit and life,’ said Jesus in John 6:63