Have you ever felt the need to explode? To just “cut loose” in the car, in your pillow, or out in the forest somewhere? Maybe you’ve laid in the fetal position and just cried… not the pretty tears… the big heavy gut-wrenching sobs…

Where are we supposed to turn when the “heavy” life moments come? What do we do when our insides broil over? Is it okay to explode at ourself, our family, our coworkers, or on facebook?


Last weekend I did some gardening, pulled all the weeds, sprayed for weeds, laid down weed sheet, and can you guess what I saw Thursday morning? A 4-inch weed! Despite all my efforts, that little weed showed what lay under the surface of my garden the entire time!

Similar to the little weed, the apostles James tells us we each of us have a small 4-inch muscle that reveals what’s “under the surface” of our heart. In essence, this little muscle reveals our “true” colors, acts as a window to our soul, and provides the litmus for the inner life!

James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

man-tape-mouth“If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man…” The Greek here is best read as a first class conditional clause (if such and such is true, and it is, then…) making the modern translation something like, “If a man or woman (present tense) isn’t staggering, stumbling, or failing in what they say, then they are perfectly mature, ripened, and spiritually excellent.”

James continues that if a person is this mature with their mouth, they’ll be able to, “bridle the whole body as well.” This literally means that a person who controls the tongue has “the power” to control every other facet of their life, keeping themselves entirely “in check!” James goes on to illustrate his point in verse 3

“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.” This is an obvious illustration about horses… Horses are strong animals, so powerful that 18th century inventors of steam power used the term “horsepower” to measure the wattage of engines. But James says that no matter how powerful they are, just a small four-inch piece of metal called a “bit” can control them!

Then James gives another illustration, “Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.” Just like the small bit in a horses mouth, the rudder of a ship is miniscule compared to the vessel itself! Both the bit and the rudder, just like the tongue, are SMALL things with HUGE impact!

Go ahead and explore the illustration at a deeper level. Note that James says, “wherever the inclination of the pilot desires…” meaning “we” turn the horse and the “pilot” steers the ship. This is a vital point because it tells us the tongue isn’t a separate entity left to its own accord but is meant to be controlled by the owner! Have you ever scoffed, “Oh, that mouth of mine!” or, “I just lost my tongue!” or, “It got away from me!” James says that’s impossible… Your tongue is yours, you steer, you control, and if your horse is crazy or your ship is lost, its your fault!

Also he says the ship will be, “driven by strong winds, (but) still directed by a small rudder…” This means there is an expectation that “strong winds” are part of the journey. Trials, difficulties, and controversies will “blow” into life, and it’s no excuse to be out of control. Have you ever said something like, “He just pushed me too far! Or, “I’m overwhelmed!” or, “I just need to vent!” Well, the Bible says that’s unacceptable. Circumstances aren’t an excuse to verbally explode!

Proverbs 29:11 expresses it this way, “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.” Whether in person or on facebook, the Bible says it’s not okay to vent and that only fools do it! Even secular Psychology admits “venting” is unwise. A 2011 Psychology Today article implored;

“Venting is catharsis right? Actually, more and more research shows that venting isn’t all that good. In fact, it can perpetuate problems, anger issues as an example, by reinforcing negative responses to situations. And when we enlist friends or coworkers in our rants, it can reinforce our position all the more. You vent, they agree. They share a story in return, it reinforces your story. The result is even more ammunition for getting angry next time you’re on the road.”

So where should we go when frustrated? The answer is made clear in 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Peter is clear that we will experience difficulty, will experience hurt, and will desire a place to express our frustration. But, we’re supposed to take our fears, frustrations, and venting to God not people! The Psalms shows us that king David was the prince of personal venting to God. The famed preacher Charles Spurgeon well said, “I’ve never been so high, that I didn’t go to the Psalms and see David higher. And, I’ve never been so low, that I’ve not went to the Psalms and found David lower.”

If we control our tongue we control our life! Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it! So, when you find your inner temperature rising, slow down, listen more, think long, speak less, deny your impulses, and find a quiet place to lay out your cares before the Lord… it will change your life.

The preceding was excerpted from Mission Bible Church sermon “Taming the Tongue” 2/19/17

Posted by Anthony Wood

Anthony is Pastor of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, CA, and has authored the books Defining Church & Defining Family. He’s married to Bre, and they have three children. More @AnthonyGeneWood

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