Today we close out our look at James 3 and how the Christian must control his or her tongue. James has used a couple of illustrations, and he closes with another grouping of imagery to make a similar point: the tongue should not be used to speak good and evil, blessing and cursing.
James writes in 3:9-12, "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."
First, fresh water and saltwater cannot exist together in the same spring. One will take over the other. And both have good uses. Different kinds of fish live in both kinds of water. But they cannot coexist. Brackish water exists, the mixture of fresh and saltwater, but it’s usually considered a waste product and not natural.
Second, fig trees develop figs…and that’s it. Fig trees don’t make olives, apples, or grapes. And each kind of tree takes different kind of care. The point is that you can expect certain trees to give you their respective fruits.
The metaphor is clear: when people praise God and curse each other, it’s incongruous. It's a square peg in a round hole.
Certain kinds of language cannot (or should not) coexist with other kinds of language. We’re not just talking about swear words and the like. But do you speak kindly to someone’s face and dog them to other people? Do you know that what you know is gossip, and still you share it to those who don’t need to know? Do you praise God for an hour on Sundays but don’t consider his ways throughout the week?
What about unverified information? What about things that undermine your witness? Do you sow seeds of doubt while praising the God of truth?
It’s worth noting that the unforgivable sin is a sin of the tongue. In Mark 3:28-29, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
This is more dangerous than sexual immorality, marital fidelity, economic honesty, greed, covetousness, etc. If you break the first commandment, you'll break the rest. How we speak of God matters more than all these things. If we blaspheme the Spirit of God, we are rejecting the mercy of God and denying the Spirit’s work, which is to apply salvation to us that was bought and paid for by the Son. Can you imagine a greater sin?
Keep in mind the importance of little things: the bridle that guides a horse, the rudder that steers the ship, and the spark that sets a wildfire. To let any of those things loose with unchecked power will result in uncontrollable damage. The horse will buck its rider, the ship will run aground, and the fire will destroy a forest.
But using those things in their proper way, for their intended purpose, results in control, stability and peace. Horses are enjoyed for leisure and labor, boats are used for comfort and commerce, and fires can give you a warm shower and cook your dinner.
Horses can be tamed, boats can be repaired, and fires can be put out. But how much more difficult is it to undo a careless word? Or a blasphemous word against God?
It is better to not say anything and be misunderstood than to say what you mean and to be proven an immature Christian.