Choice of words help steer direction, right or wrong


James used three fitting metaphors to help us understand how to get a handle on the words that we speak.

He wrote, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 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. 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.” (James 3:3-5)

Have you ever wondered why the doctor often asks to look inside your mouth when you get a check-up? It is because your tongue reveals the truth about what’s going on inside of you.

James makes it clear that our tongue is small but extremely significant. The first thing he points out is that our tongue directs our life. This is why it is so important that we pay attention to what we say.

While Luke tells us that the words that are coming out of your mouth will tell us what’s in our heart (Luke 6:45), James would tell us that our words also have something to say about the direction of our life.

The first illustration James uses to make his point is about a horse and a bit. Horses are big. A full-grown horse may weigh on average 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. Some can be 2,000 pounds or more.

You can put a tiny bit in a huge horse’s mouth, add a 90-pound jockey to its back and that little jockey can steer that giant horse wherever he wants it to go.

James says that tiny bit is like the tongue. Even though the tongue is small, the potential for impact is huge. In so many ways, your tongue will determine the direction of your life.

There are lots of examples, both good and bad, where someone’s tongue changed their destiny. I suppose all of us can think of some personal examples, and we are all aware of politicians, athletes and celebrities whose lives were forever changed by some carelessly spoken words.

With the evolution of social media, that kind of thing will continue to happen more and more. Your tongue can quite literally make you or break you. We have to be careful about the words that we speak.

Next time, we’ll consider two more illustrations that James uses to get his point across.

You may read Steve Greene’s blog at or you can email him at [email protected].

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