When I saw that both Jesus and James mentioned “hell” and “fire” in reference to the use of our tongue, I knew there was something there worth looking into. James says our tongue IS a fire, ignited by hell (which I think means the tongue tends toward judgment/condemnation and can easily incite widespread damage). Here’s a passage from James chapter 3 which I find very thought-provoking:
(James 3:2-12 ESV): “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
The tongue is simply an outlet to express the heart (mind, awareness, thoughts), so the heart is the real issue. That being said, our words are uniquely important because they carry the internal things of our heart into the external world, with tremendous potential for a lasting positive or negative influence on the hearts of others. (A simple example would be this). James seems find it especially repulsive that our tongue is used as an instrument of both blessing and poison/cursing, using several analogies to show how perverse this is. As I read, I began to wonder: what does it actually look like and mean to “curse” someone? I realized many scriptures mention blessing and cursing as opposites, so if we know what blessing is, then it’s reverse will be cursing.
The Greek word for “blessing” is eulogia, a compound of eu, meaning “good, well,” and logos, meaning (roughly) “speech, communication.” Generally speaking, I would say blessing means “to speak well of, to put in a favorable position.” Cursing then is the opposite, meaning “to speak negatively of, to put in an unfavorable position.” Again, the mouth is essentially the heart’s outlet, therefore if our heart (mind, awareness, and thoughts) is focused on someone’s flesh – their old, selfish, corrupt nature – then sooner or later our mouth will follow; pointing out flaws, criticizing, and condemning, thus putting that person in an unfavorable position before God and man. That’s speaking a curse, even if what we’re saying is true. Cursing highlights sin and flaws, as opposed to love, which “covers a multitude of sins.”1
If our heart (mind, awareness, and thoughts) has been purified by the realization of all things being made new in Christ, we will see according to love,2 seeing everyone (at least potentially) as “made in the likeness of God” and a new creation in Christ. If that is so, how can we speak a curse to them? Didn’t James say blessing and cursing from the same mouth “ought not to be?” In another place, the apostle Paul wrote that love thinks no evil of anyone, but always bears, believes, hopes and endures all.3 I believe he meant this: love does not in any way relate to men by their flesh or sins, but bears the burden of men’s ignorant and selfish ways, believes they are still made in the image of God, hopes they will “come to their senses” and acknowledge this, and endures whatever hardships come until this takes place.
Hopefully it’s now clearer why blessing and cursing from the same mouth is a bad sign – it shows a mind/heart that isn’t matured in love, and love is the goal. Jesus Christ, as “the last Adam” and “the second man,” became in his death the end of Adam’s race, and in his resurrection the first member of a new race of men.4 Many don’t see or acknowledge that, and what will happen to those people is God’s business, but those who do are to regard no one according to the flesh anymore.5 To speak a curse is to be an agent of the law, making people self-aware by pointing out their shortcomings and failures. Interestingly, when James say the tongue is “full of deadly poison,” it literally says “death-bringing poison,” and scripture teaches law is what empowers and brings death!6 To speak a blessing is to be an agent of grace, seeing beyond the flaws of someone’s flesh and thus speaking to them life-giving things, making them aware of the divine spirit of God within them, the hope of the new creation that began with Christ. This doesn’t mean we pretend no flaws exist, and sometimes we might need to point out things that are hindering people from walking as sons and daughters of God. But it does mean we don’t consider or speak to people based on their flaws, but based on the presence or potential for the seed/spirit of God within them.
I’m not sure if I’ll make another post about the tongue next time or not, we’ll see where I’m led. Grace and peace to you all.
- 1 Peter 4:8
- 1 Peter 1:22
- 1 Corinthians 13:5-7 KJV. “Things” isn’t in the original Greek, but was added by the translators.
- 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47. See also this and this.
- 2 Corinthians 5:16
- Romans 7:5, 1 Corinthians 15:56