And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
This is quite likely the strongest statement in the entire Bible concerning the misuse of the tongue in our lives. I this simple sentence, James quite completely and unequivocally lays the dangers of the misuse of it right out.
“The tongue is a world of iniquity.” One Bible translation words this, “the tongue is the very world of iniquity.” One writer describes this as referring to a system, scheme or arrangement. It is a system of iniquity that represents every other sin of mankind.
The tongue defiles our entire body. We already discussed the comparison of the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a ship. How those two things direct something much larger than themselves, so does our tongue. In this case, the sins of the tongue defile the whole person. It’s similar to the fire and the smoke damage it causes. The fire itself may not destroy everything, but the smoke permeates and ultimately ruins even what the fire doesn’t touch.
The tongue is “set on fire of hell.” This particular description was simply fascinating. The word for Hell here is from the term gehenna. This was the Valley of Hinnom to the south of Jerusalem. This is the place where the Caananites and idolatrous Israelites had gone for their child sacrifices. Because all that activity had rendered that place unclean, it was finally used as simply a garbage dump. So, this was simply a big, rotting garbage dump, constantly burning and maggot filled. Jesus used the same term to represent Hell, the place which God had prepared for Satan and his demons. This comparison of the tongue with Hell strongly implies that the tongue can be Satan’s tool to pollute and corrupt.
Next: How do we tame our tongue?