"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.
... 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." (James 3:2, 6)
James sets forth the importance of speech in living a moral life.
Controlling the tongue, therefore speech, is the most difficult
thing to do in living the Christian ethic. James explains that an
individual who can control his tongue can control every part of
his body; therefore, control of our tongue in an important issue
to consider concerning moral living.
As I write this article, I am thinking of evidence in everyday
living to exemplify the fact that one who controls his tongue has
become perfect and able to control his entire body. Have you ever
seen a fornicator, adulterer, vandal, or thief who could control
their tongue? Have you ever known an individual living in the depths
of sin who could refrain from lying or shading the truth, from speaking
profanities, or from speaking curses upon people and God? I must
say that I cannot think of anyone who can control their speech while
purposely living in sin.
Well, this is a two-way street. While it is true that all people
sin and make mistakes, it is also true that one who cannot control
the tongue has lack of control over the whole body. In other words,
if we are unable to control our tongue, we will be unable to control
other body members; therefore, if sin is present in speech it will
also be present throughout the body.
I say these things not to rebuke you and me, but to humble each
of us. Have you known a person who is perfect in speech? I must
say that we all stumble from time to time, and if in nothing other
than utterances of the tongue. Paul said that all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God. And, John said that if we say that
we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Well, where does the ability, or lack of ability, to overcome sin
come from? Jesus teaches that whatever is done by our members is
from our heart. In other words, as we think in our heart, so we
do with our body. For example, if I have profanity in my heart,
so I will speak profanity with my mouth. It is like the fellow who
seldom utters profanity, but after hitting his thumb with a hammer
utters the Lord's name in vain. You see, the profanity and cursing
are in his heart and then uttered with his lips. Yes, these things
may be occasionally controlled and withheld from the lips, but they
will eventually slip out. Jesus says: "But those things which
proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a
man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,
fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the
things which defile a man ... " (Matt. 15:18-20)
While looking into our heart and examining our life before God,
we will see our shortcomings if we are honest and sincere. Those
who desire to please God and live morally in this life will ever
strive to correct and improve upon their weaknesses. To do this
we must begin by making corrections in our heart, then corrections
will come to our physical body. Jesus says: "first cleanse
the inside of the cup and dish, which the outside of them may be
clean also." (Matt. 23:26) Jesus is saying that we need to
cleanse our heart and allow our heart to effect change upon our
In a word, this change of heart (mind) to effect outward change
is called repentance. Of repentance Jesus says: "but unless
you repent you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3) And so,
it is a repentant heart that we must posses to continually change
our outward behavior to live according to the Christian ethic. Dare
I say, as evidenced by the tongue, that no Christian will become
perfect to the point of never sinning and never making a mistake.
Even the apostle Peter, while visiting the Galatians made a mistake
in playing the hypocrite and not eating with the Gentiles in the
presence of Jews (Gal. 2:11-14). So, it is necessary for us to be
repentant to correct our mistakes and affect change, ask forgiveness
of our sins, and continue to strive to be the very best we can be
in service to God.
Ask yourself two very personal questions. Is my heart right with
God? And, does my outward behavior reveal a repentive heart that
is right with God? Whatever your answer is, we can say one good
thing - it is never too late to change while living in this life.