As Christians, we are called to be quick to hear and slow to speak so that we might be slow to anger and avoid sin (vv. 19–21). Indeed, if we are able to control our tongues, we will be able to control our entire bodies (3:2).
James gives us two analogies to emphasis the significance of the tongue. First, the tongue is like a bit in a horses mouth. The idea of this bit or bridle involves the horsemanship of an expert horseman. An expert horseman knows how to rein in his horse, how to control his every movement. In the same manner, a mature believer knows how to control his conversation. He knows when to speak and when to listen. The second if of a sailing ship. nterestingly, the ancient Greek and Jewish philosophers (Aristotle and Philo, respectively) also used similar metaphors in some of their writings. The widespread use of such illustrations would have made James’ point clear to the original audience. Just as a small object can direct a large horse or a great ship, so too can a small organ like the tongue direct one’s larger life.
The important concept here is direction. Some have questioned James’ use of these metaphors because while bits and rudders can serve to control the larger bodies of horses and boats, the tongue, strictly speaking, does not offer much control over one’s body.
However, the tongue does offer much direction in our lives, for good or ill. With words we can either build up edifying relationships or destroy them. With our mouth we can either bless God or blaspheme His holy name. Like rudders that direct ships through treacherous seas, our tongues can direct us either towards safety or peril.
The tongue is among the smallest of our organs, but paradoxically, it can exert the most influence.