Meanderings of a Minister


The Trouble With the Tongue
April 26, 2017, 3:20 pm
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In the 1970’s, the show, Star Trek, introduced an episode entitled, “The Trouble with Tribbles”.  The problem with tribbles was not that they were cute or even useful, but that they multiplied until they were everywhere.  Once everywhere, they disrupted the ship’s crew and even the ship’s physical plant.  The clogged up everything and caused the crew to be at each others’ throats.  Our tongue is much like a tribble.  A little slip here, a little slip there and, before you know it, the effects have multiplied and our progress in the faith has completely stopped and we are upset with everyone.  James knew this to be a difficulty as well and he wrote about the trouble with the tongue in James 3:1-12.

The first trouble with the tongue James mentions is that it can take down those that desire to be teachers and leaders in the church.  James makes the statement that we all fall in the use of our tongues, but when teachers fall, the impact is multiplied simply because of the influence they have over others.  When you read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9, and see the high standards Paul, at the direction of the Holy Spirit, put on pastors and teachers, it is amazing to think that they would meet all of those high and lofty ideals only to be taken down by careless use of the tongue.

Additionally, the trouble with the tongue is that it can lead you to a changed life.  It can lead to changes that are good or changes that are bad.  James uses the illustrations of directing a horse with a bit and a ship with a rudder.  Both use small things to change the course of much larger vessels, but think about it.  A horse can be used to rob a bank (in the Old West) or it can be used to deliver mail (Pony Express).  A ship can be used to deliver humanitarian aid or it can be used by Somalian pirates to take lives and demand ransoms.  Our tongue is similar.  It can be used to steer us into deeper relationships (courtship) or it can be used to destroy those same relationships (testifying in divorce court).

Another problem with the tongue is the fact that it is so hard to control.  The example James uses is that of a fire starting with a small spark.  Smokey the Bear used to say it only takes a spark to start a forest fire.  In the 1990’s, a discarded cigarette started a blaze in California that claimed over a million acres, homes and even lives.  The tongue can do this as well.  Think about a time when a careless remark or a word that was not well chosen had serious ramifications for you and you understand completely.

The tongue can also blow hot and cold.  This is what James meant by saying we use it to worship God (hot) and we use it to tear down or curse others (cold).  Sometimes, if we are not careful, that usage can happen in the span of a few seconds.  We use it to sing Jesus Loves Me and use it to criticize, gossip or destroy a person’s reputation.  This may seem normal, but James says it should not be so.

Finally, James closes this section with the biggest trouble of the tongue.  It merely reflects what is in our hearts.  Jesus said so in Matthew 12:34 when he said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”  Do you wonder why you are critical?  It is what your heart is filled up with.  Why do you struggle to control cursing?  It is what you fill your heart up with.  Why do you find it hard to focus on Jesus throughout the day?  You are not filling your heart up with Him.

Try something different.  Try spending time in God’s word today and leave off the TV.  Try listening to only Christian music for a week and see if your tongue improves.  Make a list of the good attributes of your spouse and see if you don’t begin to see them in a more positive light.  Spend time thanking God for all He has done for you and see if grateful speech does not come easier.  Try it.  It just might change your life.