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Bridling the Beast in Your Body by Dr. Nestor C. Rilloma

Can you name the muscle in your body that receives more exercise and less control than any other?

Medically, they say it's only a two-ounce slab of muscle, mucous membrane, and nerves that enables us to chew, taste, swallow food, and articulate words. Redefined in nontechnical, relational terms—it’s a two-ounce beast, sometimes.

Sometimes it frames deceit (Ps. 50:19) devises destruction (Ps. 52:2) devours (Ps. 52:4) is a sharp sword (Ps. 57:4) breaks bones (Prov. 25:15) backbites (Prov. 25:23) flatters (Prov. 28:23) poisons (Rom. 3:13).

You know this protean lump simply as the tongue. In Matthew 15, Jesus unmasks the culprit that controls the tongue

And after He called the multitude to Him, He said to them, "Hear, and understand. Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. . . .

Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders."

The tongue is neither friend nor foe. It’s merely a messenger that delivers the dictates of a desperately sick heart.

So every time James uses the word tongue in our passage today, think HEART.

James commences his examination with a surprising command.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)

Is James condemning the teaching ministry?

No. Actually, he's warning against clamoring for the position without carefully weighing the cost. It is important to understand that teachers will be judged more strictly than most.


Because they're responsible for teaching truth—God's truth—not their own opinions. Because the words teachers sow will affect many lives. And because teachers are expected to model the truth they teach. James explained it this way.

“For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (v. 2)

This especially applies to teachers. Since no one is infallible, and since the tongue is the tool of the teaching trade, teachers must master the use of this tool to avoid stumbling into "a stricter judgment."

First, James is not condemning teaching; he's only warning against rushing into the profession without weighing the responsibility.

And second, James is not promoting silence; he's proposing control.

In verses 3-5, James emphasizes the power of the tongue through the use of three illustrations.

The Tongue: Small but Powerful

“Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well.” (v. 3)

With a length of rope or a few strips of leather and a small piece of metal in a horse's mouth, a rider can control the horse's whole body. In the same way, James says, the tongue is a bit, a small, two-ounce bit nestled in our mouths that controls the direction of our lives.

Next, James likens the tongue to a rudder, something proportionately smaller than the bit when compared to the size of the ships it guides.

Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires, (v. 4)

Through the centuries, as ships have grown larger and heavier, James' illustration has grown more poignant than he could possibly have imagined. ... Yet, despite the fact that our floating behemoths could swallow whole the vessels of James' day, they still have their course determined by a comparatively small slab of metal called a rudder. The rudder of the human body is that small slab of muscle called the tongue.

Horses, ships, and now James' third and most extreme analogy, fire.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a set aflame by such a small fire! (v. 5)

A tiny spark smaller than a fingernail, holds the power to destroy thousands of acres of forest. Such is the power of the tongue.

"Like fire when it is controlled, the tongue held in check is a power for great good. But out of control what havoc both can cause!"

The Tongue: Necessary but Dangerous

And 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. (v. 6)

James means that the whole world of evil finds its expression through the tongue. Boastful pride, destructive anger, cutting bitterness, flattering lust—the tongue communicates them all.

Another interesting term in verse 6 is the word for "hell." Instead of using the familiar term Hades, James uses Gehenna which was in that day an actual valley outside Jerusalem that was used as a garbage dump.

All the filth of the city accumulated there, just as all the evil of our sinful hearts seems to accumulate on our tongues.

For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue. (vv. 7-8a)

We know how to train seals, lions, elephants, and others—just think of Gentle Ben, Lassie, Flipper, Shamu. But there's one beast not even P. T. Bamum could tame — the tongue

With another click of his shutter, James gives us a third and final picture.

It is a restless evil and full of deadly poison, (v. 8b)

Our tongues are like the forked menace of a poisonous snake. With them we strike and poison those around us. Remember Hitler's words when he bared his fangs against Christianity?

Nothing will prevent me from tearing up Christianity, root and branch . . . We are not out against a hundred-and-one different kinds of Christianity, but against Christianity itself.

All people who profess creeds . . . are traitors to the people. Even those Christians who really want to serve the people . . . we have to suppress. I myself am a heathen to the core. The Tongue: Helpful but Inconsistent The tongue is a powerful, dangerous beast. But remember that we said only sometimes. Sometimes it helps mend bones instead of breaking them;

sometimes it builds people up instead of tearing their down; sometimes it brings life instead of death. In verses 9-10, James illustrates the tongue's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tendency.'

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 shows how the nature of the human heart is like nothing in nature.

Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh, (vv. 11—12)

Unlike humankind, nature is consistent. Peach trees don't produce poisonous mushrooms. Only the human heart is capable of producing such inconsistencies.

Here are three simple statements concerning the tongue to help you remember the truths James has given us.

First, the tongue defiles. Remember Jesus' words in Matthew 15, that it’s actually the heart which is defiled.

Second, the tongue defies. It defies every attempt at human control

Third, the tongue displays what you really are. Justin, one of the early church fathers, once said,

By examining the tongue, physicians find out the diseases of the body; and philosophers, the diseases of the mind and heart.

Open your mouth and stick out your tongue. Now say Ah-h-h-h.

Your tongue looks healthy, but what has it revealed about your heart this past week?

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