The Power Of The Tongue (James 3:1-6)

The power of the tongue_PowerePoint(2).p

By controlling our emotions, we have time to think before we speak.

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (Jas. 3:1)

James sets his context for mature control over the tongue (Jas. 3:2-5). The teacher of God’s word will be judged for the teaching he does and the words he uses in that work. Every responsibility one has will be judged; James is not singling out teachers expect to emphasize that teaching comes with judgment - an incentive to be mature in the use and control of our tongues. 1) God will judge what a teacher teaches. We must teach the revealed word of God, not opinions, and the will of men (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Acts 20:20-27). Teachers must be careful to speak God’s word (2 Tim. 4:2; Gal. 1:8-9). Teach truth, not error. 2) God will judge how a teacher teaches. Paul explained this to Timothy: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Coupled with “rightly dividing the word of truth,” Timothy would know how to teach effectively. 3) God will judge why a teacher teaches. Paul continued, “if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We teach the gospel to save souls, not to commend ourselves before men (1 Cor. 1:23-24; Col. 1:28; Matt. 23:6-8). As teachers, may our tongues speak words that honor God and accomplish His will in the hearts and lives of men. Be careful teachers; judgment is coming.

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. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (Jas. 3:2-3)


The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).

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! (Jas. 3:4-5)

Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark and engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation-oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).


5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. 6 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. (Jas. 3:5-6)

Here, James drills down into the destructive power of the tongue. Great good results from using good words (note the preaching of the gospel that forever changed the world, Matt. 28:19-20). But the tongue given to evil is a fierce fire that engulfs a person and his world. Note the traits of the fiery, sinful tongue. 1) Its realm is iniquity. It operates in a system of injustice and unrighteousness. 2) It defiles the whole person. Food does not defile a person, but the words formed in the heart and communicated by the tongue do (Matt. 15:11, 18). When spoken, evil words stain one’s soul, and soil one’s reputation and influence for good. Everything becomes defiled through its scorched earth policy (Prov. 26:18-21). 3) It eventually destroys one’s entire life. We set our course in life in no small measure by the way we use our words. When left unchecked, the destructive tongue leaves in its wake a lifetime of misery. 4) Hell is at the heart of the fiery tongue. Whether its fire is gossip, flattery, profanity, or false teaching, hell is the source and accelerant of the sinful use of the tongue. Wicked words race through this world like a forest fire. Extinguish their devilish destruction by using just and pure words of truth and peace (Jas. 3:17-18).


Joe R. Price

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