James 3:1-12: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. 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.”
James doesn’t send down the medicine with a spoonful of sugar, does he? He wastes no time in this letter to the twelve tribes of Israel, the Jewish Christians of his time, teaching them to watch their mouths! The Jewish believers were strict adherents to the Torah, the ancient Law that had been passed down throughout hundreds of years, generation to generation. They knew all about ritual sacrifices unto God, faithfulness to the Temple, honoring the Sabbath, and adhering to all the “big ones” like ‘don’t murder’, ‘don’t steal’, and so on. But now that the Messiah had come and changed the game a bit, these believers were on a bit of a learning curve. Grace had entered the picture, which was wonderful and prophetic fulfillment, but also created a responsibility for the believer to adhere to the Law, not only in their actions, but also in their thoughts and beliefs from the heart.
Why is what we say so very critical? Of course, there are the simplistic “pat answers”, like once you say something, you can’t take it back. But let’s take it a step further. Let’s take it back to Jesus’ teaching to the Pharisees in Matthew 12. In verse 33 things are starting to get a bit heated when, after chastening these “spiritual” leaders in the religious sect of Judaism on their lack of belief and borderline blasphemies of the Holy Spirit, Jesus draws the line. “You’re either for me or against me; you can’t be both!” He goes on in verse 33: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.” And then He says those critical words that perhaps we have often become desensitized to in verse 34: “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Jesus called the Pharisees evil because what they said was evil. Their words, in this analogy, were their fruit, giving evidence to the type of tree they were…evil. Why? Because, as Jesus clarified, what the men said was evidence of their heart’s condition. Going back to verse 9 of James 3 we must feel the weight of this concept. “With it(the tongue) we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.”
What is your mouth saying about your heart? Are you joining in with the group at work, bashing the boss? What words are you using with your family and children? Is it easy to speak evil of things or people you don’t know all the facts about? I’m challenging myself and you today to take a “fruit inspection” of your heart, mind, and mouth! May our hearts be filled with His Word, washed in His presence, and guarded by His Spirit that we may be known as trees filled with the fruit of the Spirit.