Bits and Boats
James 3:3-4 says “3Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.”
This lesson, as well as lessons to follow, all tie into each other so looking back at the preceding verses is advised. Yesterday we saw an introduction of sorts to this lesson at the end of verse 2 which said “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” We see from this verse that someone who does not offend with their words is able to bridle the whole body. This shows us that what we say affects everything that we do as we will see in today’s verses.
The first example we are given is in verse 3 which says “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.” The first thing we see is how we control a horse. To obtain and retain control the use of a bit is essential. The verse says ‘that they may obey us’. The bit demands obedience. Not only does it demand obedience though; it also steers. The verse says ‘and we turn about their whole body’. A bit is used to turn the horse to the desired direction. It is interesting to note that such a small piece of equipment can alter the ‘whole’.
First consider a horse without a bit. If you are on its back you will have no control. With no bit you cannot force the horse into obedience and therefore you cannot turn it into the right direction. A horse without a bit will go where it likes and do what it wants. Now on the other hand consider a horse with a bit. With just a small thing complete control can be gained. On the horses back you can turn it in any way you want.
Now you may be asking ‘well Andrew, that’s all well and good, but how does that apply to us?’ (I asked myself a similar question!) This is what I came up with. As Christians, we need a spiritual bit. As we see in later verses the tongue “can no man tame; it is an unruly evil” (verse 7). As Christians what we say can affect ours, and everyone else’s, lives. Proverbs 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. The tongue holds great possibilities for us, with it we can share the gospel, sing songs and praise God, but it can also be used to ruin people, to start wars and to cause death.
Everyone has experienced moments of anger where they have said something they did not mean which possibly affected someone for the rest of their life. In verse 7 James calls it unruly. As a horse without a bit is unruly so is a Christian without their spiritual bit. With a horse the bit demands obedience and directs the paths, with a Christian the spiritual bit does the exact same.
So what is this spiritual bit? The answer: God. God is our spiritual bit. As the bit overcomes the wild nature of the horse so God overcomes our sinful nature. If we have God as our spiritual bit we will obey Him and He will be able to control our whole body. another thing to point out is that the bit goes in the horse’s mouth. Have you ever tried to talk with something in your mouth? It is not easy. The idea of a spiritual bit is this: If we have God in our mouth (figuratively) then 3 things will happen. 1) We will obey Him, 2) He will guide us and 3) We will not be able to use our tongues for the wrong thing.
Verse 4 says “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.” Here we have another example. This time imagine a mighty ship, pushed along by fierce winds, but yet they are controlled with a small rudder in whatever direction the governor wants it to go. Again we are shown something small controlling something mighty and again we see the picture of the unruly tongue. Even the greatest man, if he is not careful, will be driven by the ferocity of his tongue. But there is something small which can control it. We saw in verse 2 that a control of the tongue means a control of the whole body and in this case a control of the rudder gives control of the whole ship. Notice though that it is something small controlling the larger. A bit of self-control, with God’s help, goes a long way.
Why is the tongue so dangerous though? Matthew 12:34 says this “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” What is in the heart will be what comes out of the mouth. If Jesus is the Lord of your heart he will also be the Lord of your tongue. It is when our hearts are filled with anger, bitterness and hatred that problems occur.
Let me ask you today, have you got your spiritual bit and rudder? Is God controlling what you say? Is He guiding you? Realise that what you say holds a lot more significance than you know. With this in mind it is so important to control your tongue. It doesn’t take much, we have seen this. Just let God take control. Give God the control of your tongue and watch how it affects your life and everyone around you. – Andrew.