Beware the Devil’s Chariot
James knew well the destructive capacity of the human tongue. His brother, Jesus, had been condemned to death by angry words and false witnesses, and by an enflamed mob that shouted, “Crucify him; crucify him.” On the cross his brother had been mocked and ridiculed. Following the death of Jesus, James had seen inflammatory words from opponents of the faith result in the martyrdom of close friends, and he had seem inflammatory words between believers result in divided fellowships. James knew well the destructive capacity of the human tongue, so, when he wrote to the early church, he was clear and explicit in his warnings. He tells us that “the tongue is a fire…it…sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” He describes the tongue as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Simon Kistemaker summarizes James’ warning: “The tongue, then, is identified with—and in a sense is the vehicle of—a complete world of evil that resides among the members of man’s body. It tells lies, slanders someone’s name, kindles hate, creates discord, incites lust, and, in brief, gives rise to numerous sins.”
Edward Reyner cautions, “An unbridled tongue is the chariot of the devil, wherein he rides in triumph…. The course of an unruly tongue is to proceed from evil to worse, to begin with foolishness, and go on with bitterness, and to end in mischief and madness.”
Curtis Vaughan says about the tongue, “It can sway people to violence, or it can move them to the noblest actions. It can instruct the ignorant, encourage the dejected, comfort the sorrowing, and soothe the dying. Or it can crush the human spirit, destroy reputations, spread distrust and hate, and bring nations to the brink of war.”
What are we to do with a tool that is capable to bringing so much destruction?
First, we must learn when to keep our mouth shut. I have read that the cranes in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey tend to cackle a lot—especially while flying. Their loud cackling draws the attention of eagles who swoop down and seize them for a meal. Experienced cranes have learned to avoid this threat by picking up stones large enough to fill their mouths. This prevents them from cackling—and from becoming the lunch of an eagle. When our careless “cackling” might result in injury to ourselves or someone else, we must learn to keep our mouth shut.
Second, we must learn when and how to speak up with a word fitly spoken. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend point out, “While some criticism can be judgmental, direct loving criticism is a necessary part of spiritual growth. In fact, where there is no confrontation, growth is seriously hampered.” There are times when we must speak up and face conflict
There are also times when we need to speak up and bring encouragement. In The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird writes, “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech. When schoolmates asked, ‘What happened to your lip?’ I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.
“There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored—Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy—a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test…. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back—things like ‘The sky is blue’ or ‘Do you have new shoes?’ I waited there for those seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’” Words fitly spoken can bring healing to a soul.