Chapter 21 – Saltwater and Freshwater


All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

– James 3:7-12, NIV

What does this mean? Does this mean that we should disbelieve anything a person says if we know that they once deceived someone? Does it mean that if someone once gossiped about someone they belong to the devil and there is no good in them at all? Does it mean that if we sin after committing our lives to Christ, we lose our salvation and belong to the world once again, accountable only to our sinful nature and excluded from the family of God? No. Of course not. But it is just as serious.

I would rather play with forked lightning, or take in my hand living wires with their fiery current, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others.

– A. B. Simpson

Simpson recognised the seriousness of the words we speak. We all know in our minds that the words we speak have the power to save life or destroy it, to build up or tear down, to encourage or to wound. But do we remember this truth every moment of every day, when we are in conversation and when we are tired or frustrated or irritated? Our words have power, and can have much more influence than we often realise. The tongue is the most difficult of all wild beasts to tame, as we learn from the passage above. By human effort is impossible for a person to gain complete control over one’s words. This is why we need to surrender our mouths to God.

If we wish to live for Him; if we wish to praise and worship Him without the guilt of hypocrisy in the knowledge that with the same tongue we both worship God and speak negatively towards others, we must surrender our tongues to God and let Him mold and shape us so that our words bring honour to Him all the time. As we surrender, let us consider: whose side are we on? What are we living for? What is our purpose? So may all our words flow from there. When we come to God in surrender He can transform us into a new creation. He gradually removes our old and corrupted sinful nature, and graciously gives us the nature of Christ in its place. He saves and redeems us. This great redemptive process takes time and continual commitment, continual surrender so that He can work continually within us.

In the moment of decision to follow Christ and live for Him we are bought into the family of God, saved from the spiritual consequences of our sin and guaranteed eternal salvation and life with God. However, our sinful nature continues to fight back even after that point – Christ has won the ultimate victory but the enemy is still trying to win the everyday battles, to corrupt us over and over again to try to separate us from God or stop Him from using us for His Kingdom. We are transformed into a new creation and saved by grace and given the character of Christ – but still we have choices every day whether to continue in submission to Christ and to let Him work in and through us and change us, or to go our own way. In the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen, “You are confronted again and again with the choice of letting God speak or letting your wounded self cry out. Although there has to be a place where you can allow your wounded part to get the attention it needs, your vocation is to speak from the place in you where God dwells.”

So may we surrender to God, surrender our mouths and our words and their source – and let Him shape us so that He can use us as a refreshing spring, bringing His water of life to a broken world instead of bringing death and destruction and despair. “Samson slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. I have destroyed as many relationships with the same weapon.” (Anonymous.) As we surrender, may God teach us to use the tools that He has given us (our mouths) for productive good rather than for destruction. May we surrender to God our mouth and let Him “hammer [our] swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4 NLT).

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

– Amy Carmichael

This is strong language! Is it true that we know NOTHING of Christ’s love, if we speak badly of others? This is the same kind of thing that James was saying when he said that freshwater and saltwater cannot come from the same spring. As people of God, members of His Family and citizens of His Kingdom, we are His representatives and speak for Him, from the moment we give our lives to Him until the moment we part with the world in death. Everything we speak is therefore in His Name, if His banner is what we hold over our lives. Therefore, firstly slandering others and talking down to others is using His Name in vain, because we speak in ways that contradict His teachings – and secondly in doing so we show that our allegiance is not to Him but to the world and our sinful nature. We separate ourselves from Him with our words when we speak this way. John Wesley said, “Of all gossiping, religious gossiping is the worst; it adds hypocrisy to uncharitableness, and effectually does the work of the devil in the name of the Lord.”

So, as we surrender our mouths may we confess our sin to God; may we repent and come back to Him; may we be accepted as His children and washed clean and equipped to live for Him again. May we surrender to God our mouths, that He may shape them and teach us to only speak words that bring a smile to His face. In Ephesians 4:29-30 (NIV), Paul instructs us: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We cannot achieve this perfection by our human effort alone – but through surrender to Him and openness to His conviction and gradual transformation into the likeness of Christ, God can do His work in us.


Holy God,

You are the source of all life, and You are the living water, and in You is all holiness and purity.

That’s what I desire for myself too – to be holy and pure like You, and to have no corruption in me.

I’m sorry for when out of my mouth has come both praise and cursing.

I’m sorry for at times blessing Your Name one second and then speaking in a way that doesn’t please You.

I surrender to You my mouth – please shape it so that I only speak words that You’re happy with!

May I represent You and be consistent in all I do and say.

I can’t do it on my own; I need Your transformation.

I surrender to Your will – please teach me, Lord!

Please shape my understanding.

I give You my mouth and I ask that You’d replace it with Your own.

May I live in Your ways, speaking for You at all times and on every occasion, bringing praise to Your Name!