Some would say that James went a bit too far in expressing the dangers of the tongue, but keep in mind that this is not the opinion of a man but the Word of God. Perhaps we do not realize the dangers because we do not stay around long enough to see the effects our words have on others. It is certainly a subject that should occupy a bit of our time as God speaks plainly to us about the power of the spoken word; the power to bless and to curse. The question is, to what end do we use the words we speak.
The Scriptures put it this way:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 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. 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. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:3-6)
Imagine the power of this thing that is compared to the likes of bits and rudders. We know these are just small parts but they control the thing that appears to be large and powerful. Have you ever stood next to a horse? They are not only beautiful but powerful as well. Yet, that power is controled by a simple small bit of metal in the mouth. We do not fully appreciate the power of the spoken word. We can think something, we can even write it but it does not take on life until we pronounce it. It seems that as we speak it becomes enshrined in stone or something close to it. Maybe that is the wrong analogy. It is more like a tree, sending its roots down deep.
Spoken words go deep into the heart of the hearer and provoke many things. They also provoke many things in the person who speaks them. Unspoken desires, hidden feelings are nothing more than wisps of possibilities, until they are spoken, when they take on the flesh of reality. We act upon spoken words much more than simply thoughts or even the written word. Love that is spoken of is usually acted upon. Hatred declared is often followed up by action. Now throw in the matter of our human nature's tendency toward evil and you will understand the Scripture:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)
The point of the Scripture here is that our transformed heart should change the nature of our tongue. With a pure source the water is always pure. It is only as the source is polluted that everything from it is also polluted. God cannot accept a "forked" tongue; speaking both good and evil:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12)
If you want to know the real character of a person listen to the words they speak when they are angry. Emotion does not change the the source but it can remove any filter we have in place; then the real source is exposed. It does not matter what excuse we come up with, what stresses we are under; the only reason our tongue would pronounce curses and use foul language is because our source is not what we thought it was. Give me your excuses but they cannot stand under the gaze of Scripture that clearly says, "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." Spoken words come to life. Spoken words hurt. Spoken words change things. What are you provoking with your words?
If you have a problem with your tongue check the source. If you think your source is good and curses still come out of your mouth you better check again. Face it, there are no excuses even if we have a long list of them. None of them can stand up under the example of Jesus. I leave you with this warning from Jesus:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:35-37)