All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:7-12, NLT)
We have a German Shepherd named Maya who is now six years old. She’s an intelligent dog, capable of communicating with us remarkably well. She has a strong vocabulary, which means we have to spell particular words. She understands many commands, but she possesses a stubborn streak. In other words, she obeys when she wants, especially if it proves to be beneficial. Maya lives ‘twixt the best of both worlds, seeking the best from both worlds.
James draws a similar parallel to the human tongue. Our tongues have the ability to curse and bless, and on any given day it will do both. This poses a problem, in that our speech is a barometer of our spiritual condition. When blessing and cursing is simultaneously present our speech betrays our divided hearts.
James’ writing recalls the frequent lessons that Jesus gave concerning our speech (Matthew 15:11, 18-19; 12:36-37). Jesus was the thought leader on how our tongues reveal the attitudes of our hearts, and that we would be held to strict accountability for the careless, harmful words we speak.
He offers three simple illustrations from creation that show how we can’t have it both ways. Unfortunately, we have lowered the bar to find a comfortable standard that allows us to say whatever we think or want without recourse. The inconvenient truth for American cultural Christianity is that believers will hold themselves to a strict, professional standard of speech in the secular marketplace, but leave that standard in the parking lot whenever they walk into the church building for worship or volunteer leadership. Many believers are like poor sports fans: they think that because they have purchased a ticket they have the right to say whatever they want to referees and the opposing team.
What is wrong with us? Shouldn’t we demand more from ourselves? Shouldn’t we expect more from one another?
Only a renewed heart can produce pure speech, and consistently pure speech is the product of a renewed heart. Your heart is the source of your speech patterns, and from it will flow whatever it’s filled with (Proverbs 4:23). If you want to confidently know the spiritual condition of your soul, simply listen to yourself as you speak.