The last number of weeks we have considered various sins of the tongue – ways in which we can abuse the gift of the tongue and so cause not only others to stumble but ourselves to falter in our pursuit of righteousness as well. The tongue, James tells us, is world of iniquity, and our brief survey of gossip, slander, lying, flattery, and complaining has only scratched the suburbs of one of the smaller cities. Beware the tongue, control the tongue.
But today we move on a bit in James’ text only to be confronted with a quandary. For James has been warning us about the dangers of the tongue presumably so that we will alter our behavior, control our tongue and so bring glory and honor to our Savior. But his declaration in our text today seems to undermine this whole objective. Note what James says.
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.If we read this passage carefully we should find ourselves asking, “No man can tame the tongue? Well if no man can tame the tongue what are we doing having this discussion? Why the exhortations, James? If I’m not able to tame my tongue then I’m not responsible to do so, right?” Wrong.
Here we find the biblical authors cutting across the grain of our expectations. The Scriptures simply do not equate ability and responsibility. James holds his readers fully responsible for the use of their tongue – but here we see that he doesn’t assume they have the ability to do what he’s calling them to do.
Well how can that be? How can James hold us accountable for something we can’t even do? The answer is that God created us with the ability to do these things but we rebelled against Him and lost the ability we once possessed. But this does not make us any less responsible.
Imagine, if you will, a father who gives his son a command to mow the yard. But this yard has a special feature. In the midst of the yard is a large pit that, once one falls into, he cannot get out. The father shows his son the yard and exactly how he wants it mowed. He also points to the pit and warns his son to stay away from it. Then the father leaves and the son immediately leaps into the pit prior to mowing the lawn. Is the son still responsible to mow the lawn? Yes. Is he able? No. Is that the father’s fault? No – the son jumped into the pit of his own accord.
This, brothers and sisters, is our state. In our father Adam, we spurned the command of our Lord and ate of the forbidden fruit. Consequently we were plunged into sin and lost the ability we once possessed while still being responsible.
What then is the solution? Is there hope? The only hope is that the Lord himself return, lift us from the pit, forgive us our sin, and restore us to the liberty we lost. Praise be to God that this is the very thing He does when he touches our hearts and calls us to Himself through Christ our Lord.
And so reminded that by nature we have forfeited the ability to do that which God commands and yet remain completely responsible let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord seeking His forgiveness through Christ.