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What do a horse and a ship have in common?

James 3:3-7

"3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind."

     Probably the most important chapter in the Bible on changing one’s life and circumstances. The tongue, James says is like a bit or a rudder. Upon further examination of the passage, we see that both no matter how powerful the thing to be turned is nor how powerful and opposing the circumstances against that thing, the small thing can still turn it about. 

    With respect to bits and horses, horses require instruction on how to properly respond to a bit or, if they are not taught, a horse will respond however they themselves choose. Incidentally, horses learn from the release of pressure- just like a human learns to trust God because of His goodness. So when a horse is in a circumstance that comes against him, the rider can use the bit to turn the horse away from the threat or encourage him that he can handle it and direct him how to do that. 

    This is an amazing revelation because in general, most people believe that the bigger the horse, the harder it will be to control. But that is merely half of the meaning. James is  clearly, and specifically saying that no matter how big the circumstances are that must be brought into submission if the tongue is redirected, the life is redirected, and the circumstances will submit. 

     Horses and ships differ in several ways obviously. However, if we look critically at these two icons of large mass being manipulated by relatively small objects then we will gain a perspective we may have missed…

    When a horse is running full speed, even though they are relatively large compared to a human, they can be turned about or redirected fairly quickly. The have their own will, but because they respective pain that the bit will cause if they continue to fight it, they yield that will and submit to the change in direction. A ship, however, is different. A ship has no willow its own and is considerably larger than a human. When a ship is on a heading and the captain takes the notion to change direction, it is not as instant as with a horse. Because the ship is so much larger, more time is required to turn it and therefore, in the process of turning, some obstruction might still be met until the ship is entirely removed from its original course. 

    Both the horse and the ship are significant icons of our lives. A horse represents the speed that we can go, and a ship represents this size of our lives and how much they include. The horse’s will is generally to avoid humans but for fear of pain, they submit. In fact, in Psalm 32:9, God directs not to be like the horse or the mule who have no understanding but for fear of pain will submit. The ship has no choice…. it goes…period. In this explanation, think of the horse as the mind, will, and emotions of the human- otherwise known as the heart. Think of the ship as the body- the flesh of the human. Prior to the cross and God exchanging the human hearts of stone for hearts of soft flesh, there had to be threat of pain before the mind, will, and emotions of the human would submit. However, this side of the cross, God has given us understanding and soft hearts so that we can recognize and cooperate with God’s will before we endure pain. When you get to a point with a horse where you really do not have to use a bit and they will respond to you, you know that they understand your heart, motive, and goals … and they trust you with their lives. This is how God wants our relationship with Him to be. He wants us to shape our words around our relationship with Him - He doesn’t want us to falsely construct pious words for fear that if we don’t there will be severe pain to follow. 

    Further, the ship, as the body has no will of its own and is at the mercy of whoever directs it. It is the human’s decision to allow the mind of the Spirit or the  mind of the flesh to be at the helm of the ship. When the mind of the flesh has been allowed to steer the ship, the rudder has been directed into waves, islands, ground masses, reefs, and iceberg fields. All of which destroy ships. When the mind of the Spirit is asked to captain, it must first negotiate the ship out of these treacherous waters back to a position of smooth sailing. This will take time, and there will likely be imperfect, yet necessary maneuvers to gain freedom that may result in slight scrapes and mishaps. 

    The goal in understanding the tongues relationship and metaphoric representation as the bit and the rudder is the awareness that no matter how giant or how cumbersome our fleshy body is nor how strong willed our heart is, we have a very small but infinitely effective weapon to maintain order and control of both and that is our tongue! Like the response to the bit and the rudder, the human response to the tongue will at first be resistant, before it is submissive, and it will at first face collateral damage before it is free to move about unencumbered. 

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