“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:3-5 KJV)
Have you ever had a life insurance representative over to your house to get a quote for a whole or universal life policy? As they read through the list of activities that may effect the cost of your policy you immediately recognize their potential dangers. Do you sky dive? Do you bungee jump? Do you drink adult beverages (especially with any real frequency)? Do you smoke or use controlled substances? Are you in the military (especially on the front line)? Are you 70 lbs or more over-weight? The list goes on… As each question comes forth you recognize it’s potential dangers and instinctively go into management mode. You begin to find ways to distance yourself from such costly behaviors both to get the best rate and to step back and get the most out of life without running the risk of losing it prematurely.
We exhibit similar behavior when we read passages like the one above. We hear of the potential dangers that a careless word could cause. We listen to stories of people loosing so much by such a short outburst of poor judgment. Worse yet, the pastor knows this and thinks he has a long straight stretch of road to drive this point home at full throttle. They pull out the pepper and saturate that dish until it looses any flavor but the pepper that they are pouring on. This is their opportunity to wrestle this calf down long before it becomes the dangerously mature bull in the china cabinet that their list of “for instances” seem to document so well.
I wonder… How many people presenting on this passage have actually stopped to consider the genuine value of surrender in what would otherwise be a topic lathered with sharpening your better management skills? Take a closer look at the first verse. “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (James 3:1 KJV) Why, “…be not many masters…”? “Master” as in doctor, instructor, or professor. If the tongue is likely to be out of control, would not our first instinct be to master it? Would not our faculties go directly toward a more comprehensive education of the matter at hand? Is not more learning that can and will bring about the best possible outcome? Yet verse 8 suggests that no man can tame this tongue. Not just that it is unlikely, but most literally “not even one, nobody, or nothing.” Why not? What is the significance to not being many masters; like God? If our entry into sin was by gaining knowledge of good and evil, then is it likely that we are to get further from sin by gaining yet more knowledge? Not that knowledge in and of itself is necessarily bad. There is quite a distinction between our knowledge and the knowledge that comes from God and fills us. Think of knowledge as a subterranean river that comes from God (see Proverbs 1:7). In addition to revealing the freshness or saltiness of the water by tasting it, you can tell the temperature and mineral content as well. The words that come out of you reveal more than what is currently in your mouth, but where that stuff came from. Surrender allows less of what we have put into our speech and more of what our source contains. The knowledge of God becomes increasingly evident as our surrender to God increases. The less knowledge from God, the more we babble. The more knowledge from God the more meaning and the better timing your speech has. It seems to know when to turn loose and when to hold back.
Notice that a “bit” or a “rudder” are merely mechanisms which steer and have nothing to do with propulsion. Propulsion is found in the engine or muscles that your management contrasted with your surrender control. The tighter you manage the harder the breaks are pressed. The more you surrender, the higher the sail is unfolded. There may be a thousand ships each having a rudder that can claim a straight path, but only those out on the open sea get that chance. There may be a thousand riders that can navigate a thickly forested path on their horse in a high speed chase, but only those who get into the saddle will ever have that chance. Speaking of high seas and high adventures, there are three very popular series out that will likely be on many DVD / Blue Ray collection shelves for years to come. Harry Potter, the lord of the rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia. These stories deal with great wonders and high drama, yet you can tell that in two of them the power that is used comes from authority with a specific meaning and respect where the other power is simply power. It is nice or not and conveniently distances itself from genuine concerns about judgment for misuse of and even less concern about ultimate consequences. The power that is in our everyday speech needs an awareness of from where it has come. To whom do we belong? If we are our own master, our speech will quickly reflect ultimate futility and be most in need of truing up to the one we actually belong to.
Have you ever been in one of those meetings at work where all the “important” managers are there and everyone thinks his idea is the most brilliant? Everyone in the room seems to be a master of their own universe. Not that they are not each well educated individuals and the steward of big budgets. Yet how free can a new idea or the essence of genuine reforms flow through a crowd like that? It is as stagnant as a swamp! In order for speech to have it’s full power, full impact, and full meaning; it must be able to flow through us from God’s Holy Spirit. Do you begin to see the dangers of simply trying to better manage what ought to be surrendered? Sure, you do not say all those awful things that can be so hurtful. Sure, you do not start fires where there has been no rain in some time thus causing entire villages to burn to the ground. Then again, you neither allow the Holy Spirit to refine the chaff out of your own basket. You also prevent the total destruction of what God may have devoted to destruction. Remember Saul? “And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.” (1 Samuel 15:28 KJV) Wow! I bet that took serious surrender to God’s will on the part of Samuel to deliver a flaming comment like that to the current (and duly appointed) king. Yet, do we strive to manage each comment for maximum gentleness or do we open and close our mouth at the discretion of the one in heaven we look forward to being joined with forever? Love is both patient and kind (see 1 Corinthians 13) and it is also powerful, just, and armed with a light that pierces the darkness. Could the phrase “be not many masters” come with an understanding that we are already under the leadership of the King of kings? The incentive to be cautious about our tongue is not so that we may manage it better, but rather so that we may surrender it more completely to a refining reflection of whose we are. We may not always understand the workings of the tongue that God has given us, but we can know it is always a sign to even the most obstinate of unbelievers (see 1 Corinthians 14:22).
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” (Acts 2:3 KJV)