This morning I awoke to the sound of a mosquito in my room, a predator intent on sucking the blood out of my body. Mosquitos are evil creatures whose only positive feature is that some birds and bats like the way they taste. This particular mosquito was tiny, and moved too quickly for me to kill it. Even as I write these words, I keep checking my surroundings to ascertain whether this annoying creature-from-the-pit is about to attack again.
In the midst of my disquiet, I began thinking about how the mosquito can be compared to “the tongue.” The Apostle James would be proud if he heard me reflecting thusly. That is because James uses multiple metaphors to describe the tongue. For example, James writes in chapter 3 of his letter:
- Controlling your tongue is like putting a bit into a horse’s mouth. If you have control of your tongue, you are probably in control of your entire body—similar to the way a rider can control a large horse via a small bit in its mouth (verse 3).
- Controlling your tongue is like controlling a large ship with a tiny rudder. If you can control your tongue, you probably have larger things under control in your life as well (verse 4).
But most people don’t do well in controlling their speech. James continues:
- The tongue is like a tiny flame from hell. Uncontrolled speech can set aflame an entire forest worth of sin, and sets our own bodies on fire as well (verses 5-6).
- The tongue is like a wild animal that is nearly impossible to tame (verse 7).
- The tongue is like poison (verse 8).
- The tongue is like a spring that ought to be sending out fresh water, but sometimes sends out bitter water instead (verse 11).
- The tongue is like a tree that should be producing one kind of fruit, but instead produces a different kind of fruit (verse 12).
Inspired today by James’s example, let me try to compare the tongue to a mosquito.
- Mosquitos are tiny, and yet a single mosquito can readily alter the tranquility of any moment. An uncontrolled tongue disturbs everyone’s peace.
- Mosquitos are annoying—even beyond annoying. Similarly, some people simply jabber on about nothing important, filling the air with inconsequential chatter.
- Mosquitos are relentless, as, unfortunately, are many of us when we speak harmful words to others.
- Mosquitos can transmit hurt exponentially greater than their size—think of malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and Japanese encephalitis, all of which are transmitted by mosquitoes. The long-term effects of our words is often much greater than we anticipate when we speak.
So, are we doomed to a life of uncontrolled speech? Will our words always hurt others? James includes a brief response to the problem of uncontrolled speech in the following paragraph. Here is a summary of the response he offers in verses 13-18:
“Pursue God’s wisdom and seek peace. Develop gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, and sincerity as a general pattern of life. If such qualities increasing characterize your life, your tongue as well will progressively bear the good fruit of appropriate speech.”
Amazingly, just as I was writing my last sentence, the same evil mosquito tried to attack me once again, but this time when I slapped it down, I got it! (It’s still stuck to my hand… Is that too much information?) Hopefully, I will control the words that come out of my mouth today, remembering the little lesson of the mosquito.