James also compares the tongue to the rudder in a ship. A ship may be a great structure, but be carried to and fro by the tremendously powerful forces of the winds and the waves. Yet, in that ship there is only one decisive, small piece—the rudder. It is the use of the rudder that determines the whole course of the ship. If the rudder is used properly, the ship will arrive safely in the harbour. If the rudder is not used properly, the ship is likely to be shipwrecked.
James says it is the same in our lives. The tongue is the rudder. Our tongues control the course of our lives. If the rudder of our tongue is used properly, we will make it safely to our destinations. But if our tongues are not used properly, we will be shipwrecked.
James also gives the example of a small spark that can start a forest fire. They usually start just the way James says, with a small spark. That is also true in the spiritual realm. The tongue is like a little spark that can cause a forest fire of vast proportions. Many churches and religious groups no longer exist because one tongue set a spark that burned up the whole thing which could never be restored.
The final example James uses is that of a source of lethal poison. He says the tongue is like a deadly element that can poison us by spreading infection through the whole system of our lives.
Consider those examples again: the bit in the horse's mouth, the rudder in the ship, the spark that starts a forest fire, and a poison that is injected into the life stream. The principle underlying each of these illustrations is the same: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it is able to cause inestimable damage that might never be undone.
James goes on to point out, once more, the inconsistencies of religious people:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12 NIV)
James is saying exactly the same thing Jesus said. If the tree is good, the fruit will be good. If you have a fig tree in your heart, you will get figs out of your mouth. But if you have a vine in your heart, you will never get figs out of your mouth. If the water that comes out of your mouth is fresh, then the spring that is in your heart is fresh. But if the water that comes out of your mouth is salty and brackish, then the spring of your heart is salty and brackish. So that which comes out of the mouth inevitably indicates the true condition of the heart.
Dear Father, I pray that my tongue would be a fire for Your glory, to praise Your Name, to proclaim Your Word, and to be a witness of Your love and grace. I pray that You would set a guard over my mouth, so that my words would come from You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.