Note: I failed to post last Friday's Vision (10.2.20) devotional to the blog, though it was sent out on our church's email list, and am posting it now. The devotion is taken from the 9.27.20 sermon on James 3:1-5.
James 3:3 Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
Notice the flow of the argument here as we have two “beholds” (vv. 3-4) and one “even so” (v. 5).
The first behold (v. 3) makes a parallel between control of the tongue and the bridling of a horse. I am not a horseman, but just this summer we went hiking at Grayson Highlands and our path crossed a horse trail and we saw a group pass by on these magnificent large horses (especially larger in contrast to the small wild ponies we had also seen). Some of these horses were being ridden by young children. How were they able to direct and control these huge and muscular animals? The horses had been broken and tamed and they had the bit in their mouths to turn them wherever the rider would have them go. The point: a small bit can control and direct a massive horse.
The second behold is a nautical image (v. 4). We are asked to imagine a great ship out on the sea, even one driven by fierce winds. And yet it is turned with a very small helm or rudder. If I am not a horseman, neither am I a sailor or helmsman, but I have seen ships, and I have see the small rudder that directs the ship. The point: a small rudder can direct a massive ship wherever the governor (pilot) wishes it to go.
This takes us to the “even so” (v. 5). The tongue is a little member. It is a small part of the body. Just like the small bit in the mouth of the horse or the small rudder on the massive ship. But it boasts of great things. It can direct or drive the whole person. It can exercise a completely outsized impact out of all proportion to its tiny size
We might think James would provide a positive example, but he offers a negative for warning; “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (v. 5).
Here the tongue is compared to one small spark that kindles a fire that consumes a great matter. They say the recent massive fires in California may have had one of their sources in a “gender reveal” party. There were unintended consequences for one small spark. Sometimes the tongue can set off massive unintended consequences.
By God’s grace and the Spirit’s help, may we direct that little member towards that which edifies rather than that which destroys.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle