Restless and full of deadly poison
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. James 3:7-9 NLT
James comes to a conclusion on taming the tongue. With the examples of the horse’s bit and the small ship’s rudder, he has shown the skill and capability of man (see vv. 3–4). Now he describes man as ruler in God’s creation, for man has been given power to rule over all creatures that walk, fly, crawl, and swim. “They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground… Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” (Genesis 1:26, 28); “You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents” (Psalm 8:6–8). James lists the species of animals man is able to tame and he lists them in pairs: “wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” Man is able to subdue all these creatures, for God has given man the power to rule in his great creation. Man has been endowed with a nature that is able to subdue God’s creatures. Despite this ability that God gave to man, he is unable to control his own tongue. This was the result of sin; he lost his ability to govern himself. He lost control of himself and is now ruled by his tongue. Man can tame fierce and powerful animals, yet he cannot tame his own tongue. James makes no exceptions: “No one can tame the tongue.” With this succinct and yet emphatic remark, James repeats what he said earlier: “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” (3:2). James describes the tongue when it is out of control: “It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.” The picture is that of a poisonous snake whose tongue is never at rest and whose fangs are filled with lethal venom. Same with the tongue that is unstable, elusive, and restless. It should be controlled for if not it will spew death-bringing poison. Of all the biblical authors, James most descriptively and accurately portrays the nature of man’s tongue. James painted an ugly picture of how the uncontrolled tongue could be destructive because of sin. We need to continue to grow and learn the fear of the Lord for in this way we can reflect the godly life that is able to control the tongue. “Fear the Lord, you his godly people… keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:9, 13-14).