The Tongue is a Fire!Fr. Barnabas Powell
Soren Kierkegaard once said “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Frankly, I couldn’t list all the times I wish I hadn’t said this or that in my life. My tongue has gotten me in trouble as much or more than it’s gotten me out of trouble! But Proverbs declares “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
Words are such powerful things, but that makes perfect sense since it was a Word that created everything. It was the power of the spoken Word: “Let there be light” that set all things in motion! No wonder all great wise men teach the value of taming or holding one’s tongue!
Look at our Lesson today in James 3:1-10:
BRETHREN, let not many of you become teachers, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.
By now you know that I have a particular affection for St. James and his “fitly spoken” words. I love how James cuts right to the heart of the matter and speaks plainly to us all. And this passage is no exception.
St. James doesn’t mince words about the power of the tongue and what it can do! And James seems to suggest that if we can learn to bridle our speech, we can go a long way in becoming a “perfect man! Look at the power of your tongue! A Bridle in a horse’s mouth turns the whole beast. A rudder, though small guides a massive ship. A small fire sets a whole forest ablaze! Your tongue can stain your whole body. St. James puts the final nail in the coffin of our pride when he declares we humans have tamed all kinds of animals but none of us can tame our tongue! He then goes on to challenge us that “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.”
So, how do we overcome this “restless evil, full of deadly poison?” The first step is not hiding from the truth. We humans have both sweet and bitter words flowing from us and this should not happen. If I am ever going to tame my tongue, I am going to have to stop hiding from the truth that my tongue needs to be tamed! I have to use my tongue to confess. Confession is such a blessed gift to the Orthodox faith and one gift that for far too many of us lies unopened in our spiritual disciplines. How do I expect to get a handle on my speech if I can’t even use my speech to make confession?
Next, after making confession, we are called to use our words as tools to heal, not harm. St. John of Dalyatha said “If your tongue is used to chatter, your heart will remain dim and foreign to the luminous intentions of the Holy Spirit.” So, the beginning of using our tongue to heal is to HOLD IT! Practicing silence is indispensable to taming the tongue!
Today, do you ever give thought to your words? What is your plan to tame your tongue and use it’s power for healing and not hurt? No need to wonder what to do. The Faith lays out all the discipline you need to get this most unruly member of your body under control. All you have to do is be Orthodox on Purpose!
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