Of Bridles and Rudders…
For we all stumble in many ways. 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. (Jas 3:2-4)
Have you ever just been walking along and suddenly you seem to have tripped over air? It can be embarrassing to say the least. You look around and hope no one saw, or if they did that they may have a courtesy to not say anything (i.e. laugh out loud). Slips like that will happen from time to time and we are often left wondering why it happened.
When it comes to the tongue, those trips “over air” can be a bit more damaging. While I am not a horse rider or a boat navigator, the analogy that James uses should be easy to understand: Horses and boats are both large and yet they are controlled by a driver. The strength of a horse, the strength of the winds which move the boat can be brought under control of the driver by use of a bridle or rudder. When brought under control, the horse or boat can be moved in the direction that the driver wishes to go.
The tongue of a man is a very small instrument too. Yet, it is able to drive a person in many different directions. Control of the tongue is always a good thing. In fact, even a fool who doesn’t speak will be thought to be wise, Solomon tells us. How many politicians have been brought low by the use of the tongue? A comment that was made which reveals the candidates heart will sometimes cost a campaign.
Jesus said that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. (Matthew 15:18) To me, this means that when a person makes jokes that are inappropriate, crude language, snide remarks, criticisms that are unkind, judgments that are unrighteous, what they are revealing is their heart. These are the things that defile a man.
To defile something is to make it unholy, stain it, reduce its value, or make it unclean. The last time we saw “defile” it was back at the end of chapter one. Again, the context was the tongue and a clear implication is that the unbridled tongue will not result in undefiled religion; rather it will reveal the defilements for all to see.
No wonder James doesn’t want many of us to be teachers!
Look at the charge that was given to Timothy. Paul says:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1Ti 1:3-7)
Notice how much the tongue is in use here. Some of it is for Timothy such as charging some not to teach a different doctrine. He will have to speak to tell them that. Most of the phrases that involve the togue are those that use it wongly: different doctrinces, vain discussions, confident assertions.
However, Timothy in his talking is aiming in a specific direction: Love. This implies to me that Timothy would have to have control over what he said, how he said it, and probably even when he said it in order to be sure that he arrived where he was supposed to be. As you read the letter to the young evangelist, you will see many opportunities for Timothy’s tongue to be used and need for its control.
As I said in a previous post we need to treat our tongues like a horse, bridle it!