James 3:2, "We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check."
A crew from the TV show Mythbusters was staging an "experiment" in the town of Dublin, California. They were trying to fire a cannonball into some large water containers at a bomb disposal range. Unfortunately, the Mythbusters crew seriously underestimated the dangerous power of a stray cannonball.
According to a newspaper report, "The cantaloupe-sized cannonball missed the water, tore through a cinder-block wall, skipped off a hillside and flew some 700 yards east." But that didn't end the damage. The cannonball "bounced in front of home on [a quiet street], ripped through the front door, raced up the stairs and blasted through a bedroom …. [Then] it exited the house, leaving a perfectly round hole in the stucco, crossed six-lane Tassajara Road, took out several tiles from the roof of a home on Bellevue Circle and finally slammed into [a family's] beige Toyota minivan in a driveway on Springdale Drive."
Regarding the power of the stray cannonball, the owner of the minivan said, "It's shocking—anything could have happened." A spokesmen for the local sheriff's department also commented, "Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy. You wouldn't think it was possible." [Demian Bulwa & Henry K. Lee, "Mythbusters cannonball hits Dublin home, minivan," SFGate.com (12-7-11)]
Stray words also have tremendous power to rip through communities and lives. Like a cannonball, they create "crazy" damage that you wouldn't think was possible. A stray word shot from an uncaring tongue can penetrate, rip apart, and leave a huge hole in others. Words are powerful things. With that power comes the potential to hurt, maim and destroy.
Consider the most power man has ever hefted in his hand—atomic power. When given power there is always the potential for evil and the potential for good. Atomic power has the potential to wipe whole cities off the face of the planet or supply whole cities with energy which leads to prosperity. The nature of power is the potential for good or evil. If words can make such a powerful impact for good or evil the tongue has a kind of power. The tongue has the potential for good or evil.
James, as he calls our attention to this truth (see James 3:1-12), uses illustrations that point to the good and evil power of the tongue. The tongue can be like the bit in a horse's mouth. Or, the tongue is like the rudder of a huge ship. Both illustrations say the same thing—the tongue has the power to control our direction. Man has such little control in his world. He can impact but never control life. External control is an illusion. But the tongue can be controlled, be fitted with a bit or rudder. Our control over the tongue is how we navigate through life. We don't control the wave coming at us but the direction of our own ship in order to pass over the wave. Without control of the rudder, our tongue, the wave will hit the ship side-to-side and tip her over to sink. James point: the tongue is serious power in a small package.
And like all power it can be used for more than steering your ship into safe harbors. The power of the tongue can be a spark, a spark that ignites a roaring and racing forest fire.
A child is told that they are stupid by their parent. That word has power over that child. It can literally shape their potential. Tell them enough and it becomes a fire inside them consuming self worth and potential and leaving nothing but ash and ruin in its wake. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me," is the first lie we told ourselves as children to try and inoculate ourselves against the power of the tongue. And we knew even then, it was not true, and could do nothing to put out the fire.
Like the trepidation a father has as he drops the keys to the car into his teenaged son's hand, we too should have a certain fear, a certain heightened awareness when we enter into times when we will speak. We have to have a certain respect for the power of the tongue before we take it out for a drive. If you don't have complete control you will crash.
As my Dad often asked me when I was young, "Don't you think before you speak?" I learned that question was rhetorical, as he already knew the answer. But isn't that the beginning of learning tongue control? We think before we speak because we know the incredible power we wield and the devastation that power can cause.
How do you keep a cannonball from carving a path of destruction through a city? Don't fire the cannon.
Prayer: Father, we acknowledge the power that is inherent in words, and in concern come to you to ask help in learning control of our rudders, our tongues. We seek to keep our tongues holy because with our tongue we bring praise to your name. May your name be forever praised! In Jesus name, amen.