“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”
Even so the tongue is a little member
Like the bit in the horse’s mouth (3:3) and the rudder’s smallness in relation to the total ship (3:4), the tongue is a little member with the entire body. There is a great difference between what a tongue is (small) and what it does (great damage or great benefit).
and boasts great things
The tongue can be grandiloquent and say grand things. The idea in this phrase is not an empty boast but the very opposite. Just as the bit in the horse’s mouth and the rudder of a great ship can do dexterous things, so the tongue can do agile things. The tongue can, indeed, do great things. Albeit a legitimate boast, the result can be outrageous.
The tongue can affect virtually every area of our lives. That same small tongue can cause great harm or great help. The difference is whether we direct our tongues by self-standards or God’s standards.
2 Co 10:17-18, “But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.”
1 Co 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
James now presents a picture of a raging uncontrolled forest fire that burns anything in its way – houses, barns, vehicles, and people. As long as there is something combustible in the path of a raging fire, it will expand and grow. Careless use of a small bond fire in a forest can cause a great fire that rages over tens of thousands of acres. The tongue will expand the same way.
Few words can do great damage or great help.
Few words can create great mischief. A small number of well-placed words can cause a raging conflict between believers. The relation between the size of the remarks and the size of the result is disproportionate. Sometimes it only takes a spark to ignite a forest fire, and it takes just a few words to ignite a raging war between Christians.
Pr 16:27, “An ungodly man digs up evil,
And it is on his lips like a burning fire.”
1 Co 5:6, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”
Although the tongue is small, its influence is powerful in human relationships. We should not underestimate its influence and power. A few misplaced words can devastate a community of believers. The tongue can destroy a reputation or undermine a colleague.
Jas 4:16, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
We can legitimately boast about some things.
2 Th 1:4, “…so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure…”
The nature of man is self-centered. We love to talk about ourselves and put the focus on ourselves. Self-contentedness leads to trouble in the home, nation, and world. It draws contrasts and sparks tension. The root of it all is pride (Is 14:12-15).
1 Co 4:7, “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
We need to learn how to manage our tongue because the tongue’s use has a great influence on others. A small use of wrong words will lead to great consequences. A few words can make great mischief.
If we control our tongues, we can do great good; if we do not control our tongues, we can do great damage. The natural bent of the tongue is toward “iniquity” (next verse). That is why we must curb our words. A controlled tongue is a great benefit to man.
Pr 12:18, “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise promotes health.”