James1.26 – If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
In other words, like a wild horse, the Christian must put a bit in his mouth, a temper, so that he will not go where he does not want to go. We are very intelligent beings. We can justify just about anything when we put our minds to it – hitting our siblings, thinking evil of someone, coveting, lusting, etc. But we can deceive ourselves when we think that freedom in Christ means that we can say anything we deem appropriate.
God has determined what is appropriate for the Christian (more on this in one of the next posts). Part of our sanctification – becoming more like Christ – is manifested in the things we talk about. So our discussion has quickly moved into the arena of language in general and away from cussing particularly.
Listen some more to James:
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3.6-12).
First, we see that the tongue can destroy. Like a fire it burns up us and others when it does not have boundaries. Second, it stains. Much like in the Old Covenant where someone would have to wash themselves because they had touched an unclean thing so it is with the tongue. It can make us unclean. Just remember the last time you heard a raunchy joke. Did you feel dirty afterwards? Third, it is more powerful than a wild lion. Even the lion can be tamed so that a man can stick his head in its mouth at the circus! Not the tongue. It deceives. You think you have it mastered and then it says something you wish it hadn’t.
Fourth, and most importantly, it indicates our justification before God. James pulls out the imagery of the fig tree. This is reminiscent of Jesus telling the disciples to beware of the false prophets. There is an intricate link between the message of the false prophet and his fruit (cf. Matt 7.15-20). Before being in Christ we were full of salt water. No one would be refreshed from dipping into our stream and taking a swig. But the Holy Spirit has been poured out in our hearts and overflowed our banks f=so that blessing springs forth, even in the midst of persecution (1 Peter 3.9).
The message that we preach and live is diametrically opposed to speaking rashly and at the whim of our wills. We do not spit out vocabulary that resembles the phlegm of our world. Instead, we are to speak words of healing and life.