NTB-20-JAMES-3 - James: Taming the Tongue
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“James: Lesson 3”
Introduction by narrator accompanied by a cappella singing:
THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. Spreading the soul-saving message of Jesus. And now,
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs 18:21.
Welcome to our study of James chapter 3. James addresses the
Christian and the tongue. James will discuss the unruly, untamable nature
of the tongue apart from God and His wisdom. We must trust Him to learn
how to control our tongue.
Throughout history the tongue has done much damage in the words
that have been spoken that were unkind, unfriendly, hateful, violent, and
words of prejudice. Words have done a lot of hard throughout history.
The tongue has also been used for good in preaching the gospel,
encouraging others, and in lifting those up who are struggling.
The tongue has the potential to give life or death depending on how
we choose to use it.
God encourages us to use the tongue wisely. James begins with a
warning in James 3:1. James says “My brethren let not many of you
become teachers knowing we shall receive a stricter judgment,” James
places before us the warning and the caution: not everybody needs to
become a teacher, because they're going to give stricter judgment. He'll
lead right in then to a discussion of the tongue.
How do those two ideas go together? Unless a person has learned
and has obtained wisdom in controlling the tongue, that person doesn't
need to be put in a place of teaching. Is this passage trying to discourage
people from teaching? That is not the intent; rather James is showing us
the serious nature of the tongue. For example like the words of Jesus in
Matthew 12:36-37 the Bible teaches that “For every idle word men may
speak, they will give an account in the day of judgment. For by your words
you be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” Not everybody
needs to be a teacher only those who are striving to follow God's advice
and let their tongue be controlled by the word of the Lord.
Now here's why that's important, especially in the teaching role, for
someone who's teaching the gospel the authority of God must be at the
top, Matthew 28:18. Someone who's trying to lead men and women to
Jesus, Luke 19:10, they need to have their tongue in check- so that what
they say when they preach the truth, it's from love, Ephesians 4:15. They
need to study, know, and preach that which is true to the will of God. The
tongue must be controlled especially among those who are going to teach
the gospel and preach the word of God to other folks.
Now as we think about James chapter 3, James is going to show us
that the sense we all do sin, the sign of a mature Christian is one who can
control his tongue. For example notice James 3:2 “For we all stumble in
many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man able
also to bridle the whole body.” It is true that we do from time to time fall,
stumble, and make mistakes. James says ‘here's a mark of someone who
has spiritual maturity. He can control his tongue.’
Now take your attention back for just a moment to James 1:26. In
discussing being doers of the word, James is already hinted at this idea.
James 1:26 says “If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not
bridle his own tongue, but deceives his own heart this one's religion is
useless.” He is saying, ‘If you think you’re religious, bridle your tongue. If
you don't do that, everything else is in vain.’
We've got to control the tongue. It's true we sin. We fall short. Friend
let's let God have that divine control over our tongue so that we can learn
to “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath,” James
James is now going to show us that the tongue, although one of the
smallest members of the body, it's very powerful in its effect. For example,
James will say that the tongue is like a bit in a horse’s mouth. Notice James
3:3 the Bible says “Indeed we put bits in horse’s mouths that they may
obey us, and we turn their whole body.” What's the illustration of the power
of the tongue in its likeness to a small member that has great power? The
tongue would be like a bit in a horse’s mouth. Here's how: that bit it's very
small, but what's interesting is when you place that bit on top of the horse’s
tongue and pull up and pull down, you can control the whole body just by
putting a little pressure on the tongue.
Think about practical applications there. We learned to put a little
pressure on our tongue. We learned to slow the tongue down and be
careful what we say. The whole course of a person's life has the ability to
change. The tongue is like a bit of a horse’s mouth in that it makes that
wild, unruly animal something that's obedient. Put little pressure on the
tongue, drawback on the reins- what happens? Over time that wild, unruly
animal begins be brought under control and obedience. It begins to have
the personality and the quality traits that any good horse would have.
Relate that to a Christian. We become controlled by and we learn to obey
the will of God, and the more we learn, the more we study, the more we put
these things the practice, the more we control our tongue and are in line in
obedience to the will of God.
Now here's another way in which the tongue and the bit are alike.
You put that bid in the horse’s mouth and you place little pressure on the
tongue, you can control the whole horse. Friend that's the idea here. If we
can control the tongue, we can control the man. Why? “Because as a man
thinks in his heart, so is he,” Proverbs 4:23. I speak what I think. If I can
begin to control my thinking before it comes out of my mouth, I've already
got a handle on my mind to bring every thought into captivity to Christ. I'm
in the place were now I can control the whole body. Getting control of the
tongue is an indicator that you have control of the body. We must make
sure we get control of the tongue and one's body and one’s spiritual life is
being brought under control as well.
Now James likens the tongue to another small member that has great
power from the worldly illustration. For example James 3:4 says this “Look
also at ships. Although they are so large and driven by fierce winds they
are turned by very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.” Here James
likens the tongue to a small rudder on a large ship. At the back of the ship
you have a rudder. That rudder, compared to the size the ship, is very
small. You can turn that rudder any direction. As you turn the rudder, it
turns the whole direction of the ship. Just a small rudder changes the
direction! Here's the idea, it has the ability to hold steady. That small rudder
on the back of a ship has the power to move thousands of pounds of
weight with ease. When controlled properly, the rudder controls the whole
direction of the ship. If it's operated properly, if the captain uses that rudder
correctly in the ship, it makes that job of the captain so much easier in
Here's the point: our tongue can control the whole direction of life and
the man itself. If the individual controls it properly, if we use our tongue
properly, we have the power to take what God's given us and use it for His
For example a person who has control of his tongue and is trying to
use that small member to the glory of God, he can use that in a multiplicity
of ways that will honor the Father. He can praise God. James 1:17 says
“Every good and perfect gifts comes from above.” He can use his tongue in
prayer to ask for wisdom, James 1:5. He can use his tongue to encourage
others, Hebrews 3:12-13. Greatest of all, he can use that tongue to teach
James 3:1, Luke 19:10. Getting control of the tongue has the ability to
change the whole direction- if it's operated properly by the one controlling
Now James then uses a last illustration of the tongue to show that it's
small, and it's powerful. It must be contained. James 3:5 says this “Even so
the tongue is a little member and boast great things,” now watch this, “see
how great a forest a little fire kindles. 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 is set sets on fire the course of nature and set on fire by hell.”
What's James trying to say here? James is pointing to us that if you don’t
control that spark of the tongue, it can have a lot of damage. The tongue
can be like a small spark that starts a whole forest fire. You hear stories of
this. Someone may throw something out-maybe a cigarette or a match out
the window. They think nothing of it. Next thing you know that small spark
has got the whole forest on fire. The tongue is like a small spark that starts
a big fire. It is small, but it can be very destructive to you. Proverbs 18:21,
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
James is trying to get us to see that the tongue can bring a world of
unrighteousness. The things we say are the things we think. The things I
say, if those are ungodly, improper, indecent, and immoral- that brings a
whole world of unrighteousness into my life. It can inflame the course of
one's life. People who can't control her tongue, you can think about
examples of this yourself- politicians, of figures in the TV world- how often
do they have to say they were sorry? They didn’t really mean to say that.
They said something and really think it through. Not controlling the tongue
can lead to destruction. A person is going to be judged based on the idle
words he says, Matthew 12:36. We’re going to give an account of every
word that we speak. If it's not according to the will of God and if that's not
made right by the blood of Jesus and repentance, friend one can be lost for
the words that he says as well.
In James chapter 3 James teaches us that unlike every wild beast, no
man can tame the tongue. He says that in James 3:7-9. Now I want you
notice exactly what the point of this is. James is directing our attention to
the fact that from alligators to tigers, man has had the ability to tame those.
James says “No man can tame the tongue.”
What's James’ point? Is he trying to now, that he's encouraged us to
control the tongue, teach us that is not untamable but it's a futile effort? No,
that’s not his point. No man can tame the tongue is the point.
What's James trying to get at? Human beings can't do it by ourselves.
I don't have the power to control the tongue, but with God's help and God's
wisdom I can. The tongue can and must be tamed by God and by His word.
How do we do that? We have got to learn to use our tongue for the
right purpose not wrong purposes. Look in James 3:9-10 “With it we bless
our God and Father, and with it we curse men who've been made in the
similar to the God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.
My brethren these things are not to be so.” How do you let God control the
tongue? By realizing what's the right purpose and the wrong purpose.
Think about this: if you curse somebody with your tongue and that person's
made in the image of God, does that really make sense? In essence who
are you cursing? Well you're cursing something that God made. “With it we
bless God and curse men.” Those are contradictory ideas.
Get control of the tongue! Don't use your tongue to run other people
down, say bad things about other people, and to hurt them in this life! You
can sing praises to God in one minute and then say something bad- that's
contradictory. You can't really praise God and curse man at the same time.
We need to put our trust in the Almighty.
Now for just a moment I want you think with me about some verses.
James and the book of Proverbs go hand-in-hand in many of their ideas.
Proverbs has a lot to say about the tongue, and I want us to see some of
God's wisdom related to that for just a moment. What did Solomon, who
was given wisdom from on high, say about the tongue? Notice Proverbs
6:17. The Bible says “A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed
innocent blood are among some of the things God hates.”
What do I need to know to really control the tongue? God hates the
tongue that lies. “Liars will have their part in the lake of fire,” Revelation
21:8. Instead of lying to control my tongue, I need to speak the truth in love,
Ephesians 4:15. I need to say what's true and what's right regardless of
what consequences there may be for me.
Now another passage in the book of Proverbs is Proverbs 8:7.
Solomon says “For my mouth will speak truth. Wickedness is an
abomination to my lips.” What do I know about controlling the tongue? Not
only do I not lie, it’s not enough just not to lie- you've also got to do what's
right and speak the truth. If something's wrong, I need to say it's wrong. We
need to stand up for what's right. We need to expose the unfruitful works of
darkness. I can't remain silent. You have to have control of the tongue. You
not only have to stop saying what's wrong, but start saying what's right.
Say what God has said. Romans 4:3, we need to ask “Is there any
word from the Lord?” What does the Scripture say? ‘We need the courage
with our tongue to preach the word, to be instant in season and out of
season, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.’
Another passage from the book of Proverbs is found in Proverbs
10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his
lips is wise.” What's the point here? The person who's just kind of running
off at the mouth, the person who's as always putting something out, that
person's chances of saying something wrong go up with every word he
says. Rather instead of the multitude of words, we need to restrain our
words. It's not about how much we say it's about what we say. It is not
about the quantity but the content of our words that matters. I need to learn
that I don't have to be the one always speaking. All of us can know people
like this. I've known people that anytime there's a conversation; they have
got to dominate that conversation. They have got to say the first, the
middle, and the last word of the conversation. A Christian doesn't have to
have a multiplicity of words to be wise.
Now more from the book of Proverbs, Proverbs 12:18 teaches us the
power of the tongue. For example the Scripture says “There is one who
speaks like the piercings of a sword,” watch this though, “but the tongue of
the wise promotes health.” Yes there's a person, and we've all run into him,
whose tongue is like a sword. Every time you get near them, they prick you
with it. You don’t want to be around people like that. But then there's the
person whose tongue promotes health. What’s that mean? They're trying to
do well. They're trying to let every word be seasoned with salt, Colossians
chapter 4. They're trying to encourage, uplift, and speak the things God
wants them to speak. As a Christian, I want to say things that will lift up and
say things that will correct-maybe even rebuke. I want to say that with the
motive of love. I want to say it with the right heart and attitude to help
others look to Jesus for the love and mercy that He has.
Proverbs 15:4 says this “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but
perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” A of tree of life, what's that mean? It's
giving life. It's something that the word you can live off of almost. Well in
the greatest sense control of the Christian’s tongue and mind no doubt
means we’re looking for people that we can point toward Jesus. “Go into all
the world; preach the gospel unto every creature.” There's control of the
tongue. Do you have the control of the tongue to actually say what you
need to say? Do I have control of my tongue enough that when I know
somebody is not a child of God, needs the gospel, that I've got enough
control to say it? I am I willing to seek and save the lost like Jesus did, Luke
19:10? Will I speak as the oracles of God, 1 Peter 4:11? Am I ready to give
an answer, 1 Peter 3:15? Do I really say as Paul said in Colossians 1:28
“Him we preach. Jesus we preach warning every man, teaching every man
that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Is our word like a
tree of life? Are they really encouraging others to be faithful to God?
Then we learn from Proverbs 16:1 that really the only way to speak
the right answer is to let God's word do the speaking. Notice Proverbs 16:1
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from
the Lord.” What’s all that about? Well I may make plans, but who gets the
final say? God does. With my tongue when I'm one answer somebody,
when someone wants to ask a Bible question or ask advice, how can I give
an answer that is right with my tongue? Right here. We need to approach
the Bible and say “Is there any word from the Lord?” Jeremiah 37:17. We
need to let the Bible speak. Look to the word of God and give a Bible
answer. That's the way we can give the right answer with the tongue.
I've often heard it said and you've heard it said- and it is definitely not
true- ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt
me.’ Friend that's just false to the core. In fact the Bible says our word has
more power than sticks and stones. Listen to Proverbs 18:21 “Death and
life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Sticks and stones may break your bones, word have power over your life-
that is what the Bible says. Words have the power to encourage,
strengthen, build up, and point people towards eternal life. Or if my words
are unkind, if I say things I ought not to, if I speak in ways that a Christian
ought not to, those words can affect somebody spiritually. They can bring
death to their life. “Death and life they’re in the power of the tongue.” The
tongue indeed is a powerful member of the Christian’s body.
Now one last passage that I want you notice, and this is a very
important one. The Bible says in Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever guards his
mouth and tongue keeps his soul from trouble.” What do I need to learn
about controlling the tongue? I need a guard over my tongue. I need to
make sure that I check and double check everything that comes out of my
mouth. What's that mean? I have got to slow down. “Let every man be swift
to hear, slow to speak.” Slow down and process it then speak. Put a guard
over your tongue. Don't let anything out that's not right and good and holy
in the sight of God.
Now the latter part of James chapter 3 will encourage us along the
lines of wisdom. In James 3:13-18 we need to seek and take advantage of
godly wisdom. Notice these verses with me. The Scripture says, “Who is
wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that
his works are done in the meekness of wisdom, but if you have bitter envy
and self-seeking in your hearts do not boast and lie against the truth. This
wisdom does not ascend from above, but is earthly, central, and demonic.
For where envy, self-seeking exist confusion, and every evil thing are there.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle,
willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without
hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who
As a child of God I need to make sure that I'm seeking godly wisdom.
Godly wisdom can come in several different ways. I gain wisdom from
God's wisdom in the Bible as I study, as I read the Bible, as I become
acquainted with the Scriptures- teach I gain wisdom. I learned for the book
of James “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all
liberally with our approach and it will be given to him,” James 1:5-6. I
learned wisdom through sometimes trial and error- as I say things that
didn't work and as I examine that or maybe something happens in my life
and a step back and look at it. I can step back, look, and learn.
So what's the key to controlling the tongue? Guard it. Watch it
carefully. Don't say anything you haven't thought about. Seek God's
wisdom in control of the tongue.
Now as we mentioned, the greatest use that a person could ever
have for their tongue is preaching the gospel- telling men and women about
the love of God. Friend that's what we want to do today. We want you to
know just how much the God of heaven loves you deeply.
“God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that
whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God loves you and he loves me deeply, so much he sent Jesus to
come to this earth to live a perfect life, to give us the word of God, to die on
the cross, to make that once for all sacrifice, and to prepare the way to
If you've never obeyed the gospel, today we encourage you to do
Have you heard the word Romans, 10:17? Do you really believe
Jesus is God's son, Acts 2:36-38? Are you willing to change your life and
repent, Acts 3:19? Would you make that good confession just like the
Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:37-39?
And friend to put the whole body, not just the tongue, in use to the
service of God, would you be immersed in water for the remission of your
Jesus said in John 3:5 “Unless a man is born of water and the spirit
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
May God help us each to strive daily to live for Him and honor Him
with every part of our life.
Study Questions for: “James: Lesson 3”
1. According to Proverbs 18:21, what power does the tongue have?
2. Who receives a stricter judgement according to James 3:1?
3. What does Matthew 12:36-37 say about words spoken?
4. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to preach the truth in what?
5. What does James 1:26 say about the tongue and religion?
6. What does James 1:19 say about speaking?
7. What is the tongue compared to in James 3:3?
8. What does Proverbs 4:23 say about the things we think?
9. What is the tongue compared to in James 3:4?
10. According to James 3:5, how is the tongue like a spark of fire?