By J.R. Miller
The exhortation, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers" is a warning against the spirit which is always giving advice to people, trying to direct their lives and control their opinions and their movements. Some people are ready with advice on every subject. No question of duty in other people's lives is so delicate, that they cannot settle it at once. Where wise, thoughtful men are silent--they speak out with boldest self-confidence. They are always obtruding advice unsought upon others. They understand your business far better than you do yourself. They know what you ought to do in every experience. They are as much at home in spiritual matters as in local gossip, and can tell a distressed soul what to do as glibly and as unfeelingly as they can give advice about farming or sheep-raising.
Perhaps James did not have this sort of "teachers" in mind--but it would be a blessing to the world if some of them would take his reproof to heart. There are very few people fit to give advice to others. Especially are there few who are fit to guide others in spiritual matters. It does not matter so much if it be only the cut of a coat or the color of a dress--but when it is the eternal interest of a soul, only one who is living near the heart of God and has learned by long and deep experience, should dare to give advice. The ambition to be recognized as leaders is a sure mark of vanity! It is better to be the propeller of a ship, hidden under the water, than the figurehead, vaunting itself on the prow.
"We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check." The tongue is the most sensitive to impression from within, and most quickly interprets the emotions and feelings, good or bad. It is also the hardest of all to control. Therefore, if we can control our tongue, there is no doubt that we can control all our other members. Our tongue is the wildest and most wayward thing about us. People who in every other way live almost faultless lives, are constantly stumbling in their speech, speaking words they ought never to utter. It is a wise rule in all self-culture and discipline, to give most attention to those things in which we are most lacking, to strengthen the weak points, to curb the wayward elements, to put the restraint where there is the most tendency to defy control. Every tongue, therefore, needs watching. With most of us, this is the weakest and the strongest point--the weakest in its self-control and the strongest in its wild waywardness.
"The tongue is a small part of the body--but it makes great boasts." Two admirable illustrations of this are given. The great, strong horse is controlled by a bridle, and the largest ship obeys the rudder even in the wildest storms. What the bit is to the horse, what the rudder is to the ship, that the tongue is to the body. Not only does the speech express the inner emotions--but it reacts again upon those emotions. Thus uncontrolled speech does double harm.
Evil words spoken, while they do harm to others, kindle also into still intenser flame, the inner passions which first prompted them. "You cannot deliberately besmirch your neighbor's reputation, however bad a woman she may be, without making yourself a worse woman." We are not done with wicked words, when we have uttered them. While they go out into life on their career of hurt and injury--our own life has in it a new element of evil because of their utterance!
Our duty is to get and keep our tongue well in hand; to get a rider on the horse who shall guide the fiery animal; to get a pilot on the ship whose hand on the wheel shall be instantly recognized and instantly yielded to in the fiercest gale. The tongue is capable of wonderful mastership over the life, if only it can be made servant to a good heart and a strong will.
"The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."
The old hunter lit his pipe, then threw down the match among the dry leaves and passed on. In a little while the whole forest behind him was ablaze!
A kerosene lamp was upset by the kick of a cow in a stable, and soon almost the whole city was in ruins!
A boy's Fourth of July firecracker carried a spark to a dry roof, and another city suffered from a terrible conflagration!
A spark from a passing locomotive flew into the dry grass, and a prairie was overswept by fire!
There are many people like the old hunter, throwing burning matches among the dry leaves in almost every conversation. There are men and women who are continually upsetting lamps among the hay and starting conflagrations. The tongue is a fire, and words are sparks. Ofttimes the words burn into some tender heart, almost extinguishing its life!
"No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison!" This may seem rather a discouraging word. We must not conclude from it that the tongue cannot possibly be tamed. No man can tame his own tongue or the tongue of another--but Christ is able to get the mastery for us over every power of our own being.
The story of Moses is suggestive. When he went out, at forty years of age, thinking he was able to begin his work, he had not yet mastered his tongue or his temper. God took him into the wilderness, and for forty years had him in training. Then he came out, at the age of eighty, and was ready to become the leader and the lawgiver of his people. This may seem discouraging, too--that it took forty years to tame a man's tongue. Perhaps most of us will find that it does take a good many years to get perfect mastery over our speech. At the same time, there is no sin in us so masterful, so resistless, so perverse--that the grace of God cannot bring it into full subjection.
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing." It is inconsistent that the same tongue which is given to praise God--should tomorrow, out in the world, speak bitter words against men. No doubt many good people are sometimes led by sudden impulses to speak words that are not true or loving, to or of others. But every Christian should understand that the tongue which has been given to Christ, should never speak any but Christly words.
We are to be Christ to others, and our words should be Christ's words. We should train ourselves, under God's grace, to nourish only good thoughts, kindly thoughts, loving thoughts, and instantly to quench in our heart every thought of bitterness or cursing. If the evil thoughts are quenched, there will be no flame of anger or passion bursting from our lips. If our heart is filled with love--our speech will not give vent to bitterness, to wrath, to anger, to scandal, to anything that is not beautiful.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." A man may achieve the honors of his class in college and be a walking encyclopedia of information--and yet have no wisdom for the ordinary affairs of life. His knowledge does him no good. One may know all the precepts of the gospel concerning love, gentleness, or patience--and yet if he does not show these qualities in his daily life--all his knowledge is worthless. Knowing how to live is good--but doing is the test of true knowing.
The tongue is an index of the heart. Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks. We must, therefore, show our wisdom in our words. The kind of speech that proves our wisdom, is that which is filled with the Spirit of Christ. On the day of Pentecost the disciples got new tongues. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to speak the language of heaven, the language of love--the soft answer which turns away wrath, the word of blessing for one who curses, the word of gentleness in reply to rudeness, the prayer for those who persecute us.