James 3:6 - And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
"the tongue is a fire"
Fire is either good or bad depending on its control. When we light the fire on the stove it is good. When we light the fire in a furnace it is good. When we light the fire in a water heater it is good. When the fire escapes its boundaries it suddenly becomes a very destructive force. Most of us have probably seen a house fire. We have seen images of forest fires. The tongue can either be used for good or bad. The principle is that it must be controlled. A controlled tongue produces good. An uncontrolled tongue wreaks havoc and destruction.
"the tongue is a world of iniquity"
This provides a clue as to what side of the coin is being considered in this passage. James is considering the tongue as a force for evil and not good. This is quite a statement, "a world of iniquity". Surely the tongue has been the occasion of changing the course of world events. The tongue has been the occasion of turning someone’s world upside down? Think of all the sins of the tongue.
• Sowing discord
• Cultivating discontent
• Fomenting rebellion
• Promoting error
• Opposing truth
• Occasion of offence
• Fountain of bitterness
• Cursing & swearing
It truly is a world of iniquity!
"So is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body"
Among our members it is a fire. Among our members it is a world of iniquity. The tongue has the ability to get the rest of our being in deep trouble. Being among the smallest members it has potential to create some of the biggest problems. How often has the tongue dragged the whole body into sin and trouble? The tongue will take us places our feet would never go. The tongue will promote things we would never do. The tongue will promise things we can never perform. The tongue will diminish our stature while trying to increase it by attacking others.
"and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell"
Nothing inflames like words. They are often more inflammatory than if one was to be actually struck. The tongue often just has to ignite a fire and the destruction takes care of itself.
"Observe hence, Hell has more to do in promoting of fire of the tongue than men are generally aware of. It is from some diabolical designs, that men’s tongues are inflamed. The devil is expressly called a liar, a murderer, an accuser of the brethren; and, whenever men’s tongues are employed in any of these ways, they are set on fire of hell. . . . But when it is set on fire of hell, as in all undue heats it is, there it is mischievous, producing rage and hatred, and those things which serve the purposes of the devil. As therefore you would dread fires and flames, you should dread contentions, revilings, slanders, lies, and every thing that would kindle the fire of wrath in your own spirit or in the spirits of others.” Matthew Henry
The tongue is always better used to warm others rather than scorch them.