In today’s passage James asserts the directional power of the tongue as well as its destructiveness.
3 If we set bits in the horses’ mouths to make them obey us, we can turn their whole bodies about. 4 Likewise, look at the ships: though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the impulse of the helmsman determines. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and it can boast of great things. See how much wood or how great a forest a tiny spark can set ablaze! James 3:3-5 [AMP]
In verse 3 James uses the image of how a bridled horse can be controlled by manipulating a bit that is in its mouth. Verse 4 uses a similar image of a large ship that even though it has all the influences of the environment around it, a helmsman can direct the ship in any way he pleases. So, when applied to me -> …just as the bit determines the direction of the horse and the rudder the ship, my tongue can determine the destiny of my life. When I exercise careful control of the tongue, it can be presumed that I am also are able to direct my whole life in its proper, divinely charted course: through God’s strength in this area, I can become ‘perfect’ (v. 2). But when my tongue is not restrained, small though it is, the rest of my body is likely to be uncontrolled and undisciplined as well.
Finally, in verse 5, there are 2 points that James makes: 1) Even though the tongue is small, it can have big impact in what it can communicate and manipulate. I have seen amazing orators be able to move whole audiences into action or words from factious intentions make divisions and splits between people. Just look at the fact that the internet refers to talking video heads as -> INFLUENCERS. 2) 5b talks about the destructive power of the tongue which is appropriately connected to the ‘tongue boasting of great things’. When the tongue speaks, it has the potential to cause great destruction just as a small spark can destroy acres of forest and millions of dollars in personal property. I have been reading a book called Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier…frightening how much the words of supposed ‘experts’ have on the lives of teens and adolescents.
Personal Application: I must recognize the lasting power of my words on my children, my co-workers, and friends/family. More importantly, on the souls under my care in regard to eternal ramifications. I know that God is sovereign, and His will and purposes will be met, but I can cause disruption and harder avenues because of my choices. I can stand as a can of water to diffuse rather than a can of gasoline to incite. I must make minute, hourly, daily choices to control my tongue and thus enabling my desire to have a ‘God glorifying’ walk as a follower of Jesus Christ.