When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
James gives two powerful examples of how something small controls something that is very big. What makes a bit so powerful is that it is placed between a horse's teeth on its sensitive gums. An ill fitted bit can cause so much pain it causes the horse to be obstinate. Likewise even though a ship is not driven by a fierce storm when a rudder is guiding its way, yet a rudderless ship is bound for destruction.
Of course, in those days these two examples would mean more in Jesus' society than ours. But the principle remains the same. Our tongues have great power to either guide us through storms and carry heavy loads, or to lead to destructive situations. Finally, James says that even though a tongue can create a small spark in the beginning, the end result can be a raging forest fire. We have all seen or been a part of raging arguments that start with a small comment, and then catch on fire and can cause great damage. When one looks back, a little self control of the tongue could have prevented this calamity.
On the flip-side our tongues can be used for great good. With our lips we can praise God. With our lips we can pray to God and others. With our lips we can share the Good News of the gospel. With our lips we can provide a comforting word, or an encouraging word that so many so badly need. God has created us with a tongue and given us a language so we can communicate and do much good.
That is why I believe the last fruit of the Spirit Paul gives in Galatians is self control. Just like a horse needs bit for control, and a ship a rudder to keep it on the right course, God has given us a tongue which if used with control can bring much good. But if out of control can do much damage. One of the things I have found very helpful is to think before I speak. And ask the question, "Is what I am going to say bring glory to God? Is what I am going to say build others up or tear them down?" I think James comments have relevance for today! What do you think?