Beware the Colorful Metaphor
“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.” – James 3:3-5
For about a year in my childhood, our family owned a white Arabian horse. But putting a bit in his mouth did nothing. He didn’t want to ride with a Western saddle or an English saddle or even bareback. To us, he seemed rebellious and out of control, bucking us off every chance he got.
How do you even teach a horse to obey a bit in the first place? Who ends up training that thing? If negative speech can change our trajectory in life, even toward our own destruction, then how can we learn to discipline ourselves away from it?
It begins here.
Luke 6:45 - A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
I’m sorry to tell you, that what I am typically full of is not goodness of the heart.
Allow me a brief but relevant sidebar. I’m sorry to do this to you, but to be authentic and transparent; I have to tell you where my mind goes as I consider this Bible verse.
In the 1986 movie “Star Trek IV: The Journey Home”, the Vulcan character of Spock and the crew of The Enterprise time travel back to planet earth in the 1980’s. How very considerate of them to show up at the time and place of their contemporary box office audience.
Anyway, this non-human character (famous for feeling no emotions but being only driven by logic) is mystified at the foul language of the time.
Spock: Your use of language has altered since our arrival. It is currently laced with, shall I say, more colorful metaphors.
Kirk: You mean the profanity?
Kirk: That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.
I think about that movie moment a lot when I’m angry. And not just in reference to our cultural bad language, but also to negativity or gossip or anger. Unless you are an emotionless Vulcan, you probably indulge your negative feelings more than you should. (The nonfiction writer Donald Miller recently posted this article about that very same reactionary nature.)
So back to the horse with the bad attitude: After a year of getting scraped off on low-hanging tree branches, we decided to sell him. An educated buyer showed up, saddled the horse and proceeded to run him through elaborate commands which he immediately obeyed. He walked backwards, he pranced and he trotted as though lighter than air. He was a different horse, because he was being lead by someone who knew how to control him using that bit.
Matthew 7:17 - Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
We’re all only human (and not Vulcan) after all. But getting to the source of the negative overflow from our hearts may lead to relief and positive change much more quickly than simply trying to train ourselves out of it.
We might be better served by the question, “What’s really wrong with me when I’m bearing bad fruit or indulging in negative speech?” To learn self-control and prevent self-made disasters or wrong turns, the Bible tells us that we can gain more insight into our bad behavior by examining our hearts and minds. As you read through James this month, store up the goodness of God’s word in your heart, and let it overflow into your life.
~ Audrey Brown Williams
God, please help us to be vulnerable and honest, to be brave enough to ask what’s really going on when we rage at the world around us. Help us to get to the heart of our problems. From there, teach us self-discipline so that we won’t be forced to repeat them. Amen.
- Proverbs 10: 18-20
- Galatians 5:22-23
- Proverbs 16:32
- Romans 12:2
- Psalm 37:30