The Tongue: How to Discipline a Fire (Part 2)

After realizing that the tongue is test of a person’s spiritually, we also have to acknowlege that the truth is the truth:  Choices have consequences. We may not face those consequences (either God’s blessings or God’s discipline in our lives) in the exact time we wish they would occur. However, if we are going to face consequences as a result of a sinful choice, we typically want those consequences to be postponed until a later time. But whether we acknowledge it or not, the choices we make will produce consequences – some of them have an eternal impact which can be good or bad.

Consequences Can Work Both Ways

Paul wrote in Galatians 6:8 that if we sow to the flesh, we reap corruption. This could impact a marriage, a family, a church, a friendship, or even a person’s ministry and testimony. However, if we sow to the Spirit, we reap life everlasting – we can experience for eternity the life we have in Christ, the grace of God, and His mercy, love, and patience (and all the other blessings promised in God’s Word).

One thing to remember is that consequences can be good or bad (depending on the choice a person makes and how God in His sovereignty chooses to let those consequences come to the surface). This is what James is referring to when he wrote,

“With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:9-10)

Another fact we have to face is that our words have greater impact than we really imagine. In short, we underestimate the power of the tongue. It can glorify God and have an eternal impact on the lives of others, or it can rob God of His glory in certain situations and have a damaging impact on lives.

Recognize the Destructive Uses of the Tongue

In part 1, we discussed that the tongue can be a spirituality barometer. Now it’s time for us to take a look at demonstrations of the tongue’s destructive power.

It’s interesting that James does not tell us how the tongue’s destructive power is demonstrated in human speech. He knows that the spiritual mind, informed by the Truth, will have no problem making the connections. Since we have the whole body of Truth, the Word of God, we need to be thinking about some specific ways, in addition to lying, that our tongue can be destructive:


I thinks it’s also interesting that we don’t have to look far in the NT (even in the early church) to find the sin of gossip. To gossip has the idea of speaking to someone about an issue of which they are neither part of the problem nor a part of the solution. Gossip also includes saying things about someone behind their back that you would never say to their face, and discussing details about a problem with a person without first going to the person with whom you had the problem.

The writer of Proverbs 18:8 wrote, “The words of a whisperer (gossip) are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Gossip often veils itself in acceptable reasoning such as: Have you heard…?, Did you know that…?, I do not believe it is true, but I heard that…?, I will tell you this if I know that it will go no further,” or “I am telling you this so you can pray about this with me!” Kent Hughes, in his book, The Disciplines of a Godly Man, said it well when he wrote, ‘This seems so pious, but the heart that feeds on hearing evil reports is tool of Hell, and it leaves flaming fires in its wake.” If there is a problem, we should only talk to the people who are part of the problem or part of the solution.

Criticism – Cutting Others Down

It’s so easy for us to find fault with each other. We like to maximize the weaknesses of others so we don’t look so bad ourselves! If we were honest, we’d have to say that much of our criticism is nothing short of simply being self-righteous and judgmental.

To the person who would say, “My talent is to speak my mind,” you might want to say, “That is one talent God wouldn’t mind if you buried!” Think about James 4:11:

“Do not speak against one another, brethren (literally, “do not speak down on one another”). He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it.”

We have to be careful of this not only in the sense of telling something that is not true about another person (lying/gossip), but also when speaking the truth. Many believers use truth as a license to righteously “pick apart” another’s reputation. They think fault finding is a spiritual gift – a license to conduct spiritual search-and-destroy missions. Honestly, I think some people think there is a vacancy in the Trinity, and they see it as their job to pick up the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We do acknowledge that it’s one thing to lovingly and graciously confront a person, but it’s another thing to try to “set everybody straight” on an issue in which you think a person is wrong. The danger with that is that we are often wrong about our assumptions, and we often find that when someone tries to be that person’s “Holy Spirit” . . . the volcano erupts!

We need to memorize and remember that the “tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). But there is hope for all of us because with the help of the Holy Spirit, and the power of God’s Word, we can learn how to replace the dstructive tongue with a disciplined tongue (coming in part 3).