I love to enjoy a beautiful day by the water, lazily watching boats sail by. Some boats are small and can be manned by a single sailor. Other ships are five-stories tall and have large crews working tirelessly to keep the ship in top-notch shape. But from dinghies to cruise ships, there is one small but mighty part of the boat that is unseen—the rudder. It is the rudder that determines the course of the entire ship and crew.
James uses the picture of a ship’s rudder to describe what our tongues are like. Check it out:
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits in the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder, wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things (James 3:2–5).
Have you ever said something and then immediately wanted to snatch your words right back out of the air and stuff them back in your mouth? Yup, I have, more times than I can count. Just like the small rudder can send a giant ship on a collision course with tragedy, our tongues can quickly get us into trouble and can throw our relationships crashing against the rocks.
Our tongues can quickly get us into trouble and can throw our relationships crashing against the rocks.
That’s why James goes on to say, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (3:9).
So what can we do to tame our tongues? Bits and bridles may work for horses, but they aren’t really practical, attractive, or comfortable to bridle our human tongues. So how do we control this “rudder”?
Let’s circle back and take a second look at James 3:
If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. . . . Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder, wherever the will of the pilot directs.
He can actually help control our words and make them obedient to Christ. All through His power and grace!
Did you notice the pilot the second time around? God is the One at the helm of our lives, our hearts, and yes, even our speech when we surrender ourselves to Him. Because we are human and have a sinful, fallen nature, we will stumble with our words, but there is hope in Jesus! By His power, He can transform our will and pilot our ship. He can actually help control our words and make them obedient to Christ. All through His power and grace!
This summer, every time we see a boat or a ship, let’s remember to ask God to help us tame our tongues. How about we pray these three, short prayers for our small “rudders”?
- Let us only speak words that will build others up, not tear them down (Eph. 4:29).
- Let our speech be gracious toward others (Col. 4:6).
- Let the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable to the Lord (Ps. 19:14).
What are some other specific ways we can ask God to take the wheel in the area of our speech? Write out your prayers for God’s help in the comments below.