Sometimes illustrations found in the Bible thousands of years ago are still just as easy to understand in our modern culture today.
The example of sheep and the need for a shepherd is something we can still understand and observe in our modern culture with how much trouble the livestock can get into without someone protecting them.
Another example we see comes from horses, something anyone in the rodeo and modern horse industries can understand.
James 3: 3-6 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
We can totally understand the comparison of our own tongues to the way a bit controls the direction of a horse. A small device inside a horse’s mouth can control the movements of the animal and how it responds.
James is showing us how powerful our tongues. Like a bit and horse or the rudder of a ship, another illustration we understand in modern times, our tongues have the power to destroy.
Look how much damage an accusation against someone can cause.
Our tongues are arguably more powerful now than they were back then because the words we speak can literally reach people around the world in seconds thanks to modern communication and social media.
Throughout this teaching from James on our words, he uses extreme illustrations to stress to us just how much harm we can do. He not only tells us that our words can be evil but that they can actually be as destructive as something released from hell.
I think he wants us to take our words seriously.
And whether we want to admit it, who here hasn’t been hurt by the words of others? Some of us have been badly damaged by them. And if we continue to be honest, we all have done some harm with the words we’ve said whether it be running someone down to others, tearing someone down to his face or spreading a lie without taking a minute to find out the truth.
James goes further in the verses that follow to tell us our words can both praise God or destroy another person but that when our faith is real, how can our words we used to do harm?
Even though he would have known we can never fully reach it, James raises the bar an impossible height that shows us what we should be striving for—to never spark a fire with our words.