I want to draw our attention to the many ways that human beings have distorted some of the most precious of God’s gifts to us.
Take, for example, our minds. God has given us brains and minds that we might understand him and grasp his truth and delight in his greatness. And what have we done with this glorious gift? Paul says in Romans 1 that although all people have known that God exists and what he is like, “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
Another example would be what we have done with our hands. The human hand is a remarkable instrument, given to us by God so that we might subdue the earth and serve one another. But instead men and women use their hands to craft idols of marble and ivory and gold and worship them in the place of the Creator.
Yet another wonderfully glorious gift of God is our eyes. The intricacy of the human eye and its capacity to see is almost beyond description. God gave us eyes that we might behold his glory in creation and that we might see and enjoy one another, but we pervert their God-given purpose by setting our gaze on pornography and carnage and tragedy and ugliness and distorted images.
But there is perhaps no greater sin than what we have done with God’s gift to us of our tongues, our speech, our capacity for words and sentences and singing and sighing. Instead of using our tongues for blessing others we curse them. Instead of using our tongues to sing of God we slander him. Instead of using our tongues to tell of his greatness and his saving grace in Jesus we use them for profanity and silliness and crude and vulgar conversation. I find it highly instructive that when the Apostle Paul turns to a description of the wickedness of mankind he says this:
“Their throat is an open grace; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13-14).
The Bible is full of lengthy descriptions of how we use and abuse human speech, of how we turn it for good and for evil. I can only think of the book of Proverbs and its countless exhortations on how to make godly use of our tongues. But there is perhaps no more explicit and direct portrayal of the power of language and the sins of the tongue than what we find in James 3:1-12. James has already addressed this point. In James 1:19 he exhorted us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” And again in James 1:26 we read, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
One of the marvelous things about this passage is that it requires virtually no explanation. It almost preaches itself, as James piles up one metaphor or analogy upon another. We hardly need to do anything other than simply read the text to grasp its meaning.