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The Taming of the Tongue (James 3:1-12)

James: Put Your Faith to Work, Pastor Brian, Sermons

The Taming of the Tongue (James 3:1-12)



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The Taming of the Tongue

James 3:1-12 (Pastor Brian)

1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongues also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


James has been talking about the importance of works in demonstrating our faith (these are evidence that we ARE saved – but they doesn’t save us in and of itself). We are saved by faith alone through grace alone. But where’s the evidence that you’re saved? Works. (James asserts)

James picks up on the topic of teachers now. This moves into an exhortation to all of us.

The Lord has established his church with a leadership with many responsibilities. (The five-fold ministry: apostles, evangelists, preachers, teachers, prophets) These “job descriptions” are present to help build up Christ’s church.

  1. Prophets speak God’s heart to his people – exhortations, encouragement, challenge.
  2. Evangelists bring in new people, spread the word to unbelievers.
  3. Preachers educate and instruct the church, helping people become mature in the faith.
  4. Apostles establish new works and lead the church into new things.

What happens if you aren’t doing your job? Bad things can happen. You should take your job seriously.

As teachers/preachers, we interpret the Word and tell people how to live out the Word of God. Therefore, we need to be careful to preach the TRUTH. (Paul says, “Entrust these to faithful men who would then teach others.”) – You must be faithful to learn – you can’t teach what you haven’t learned yourself. And all people will one day be accountable for all their words and works in the end.

Jesus told a parable – “blessed is the slave who is found by his master to be [doing all things with integrity] – but if he thinks ‘my master will be a long time in coming’ and starts to [take advantage, take for granted, act without integrity], then his master will come at an unexpected hour and rip him to pieces and hold him accountable for all his evil.”

The servant was to feed the others, but if he is slothful, lazy, gets drunk, beats the others, he will be punished horribly when the master returns. This is a parallel to the stricter punishment that teachers may incur if they “beat” the children of God and don’t feed them. (Remember when Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep”? – this was the “reinstatement” of Peter – Jesus also prayed that his faith would not fail.)

  • Jesus then asked him 3 times, “Do you love me?”
  • Peter said, “Of course, you know all things.”
  • Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

(Remember Peter had previously denied Jesus 3 times, now Jesus is giving him an opportunity to acknowledge his love for him an equal 3 times.)

When we talk about pastors, preachers, teachers, Bible study teachers, cell group leaders, home study leaders, fathers and mothers at home – we all have a greater responsibility as teachers – we all have a responsibility to learn and grow – and we all will be held accountable in the end.

James says, “But not only teachers… consider your tongue.”

  1. The bit and bridle of the horse.
  2. The rudder of a ship.
  3. A spark that starts a forest fire.

Pauline’s story about “Dan” the horse. She was 5, on a horse, the horse walked on, came to a road, stopped, looked both ways, crossed, and went on a bit, turned around, came to the road, stopped, looked both ways, continued on home. She was safe. The horse had been well trained.

This bit is a very tiny part that guides the larger whole.

Incident of Derick Prince – he was in Israel teaching (married a European lady). She’d gone into a small store and was haggling – she didn’t buy anything and left. As she left, she stumbled. The Lord said, “The owner has just cursed you.”

This may seem far-fetched, but your words have power. Emotional power, spiritual power, sometimes physical power.

We must be careful in how we speak and in what we say.

The stumbling is not just a stammering in speech or saying something incorrectly, but we can literally start a fire, poison people, bring bitterness in the heart of another person.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” – chant from childhood

There are 4 headings of speech we must be aware of:

1. Gossip:

The WORST sin in a church – it often “looks” like counseling or “prayer requests”, but it is very common, done often, and may hurt others deeply and permanently.

Paul warned Timothy and Titus saying, “malicious gossips” (deabolos = devil) – When we gossip, it goes like this, “Did you hear…?” “WHA??? No way! Tell me more~~” and we jump on it like a hungry dog.

Don’t do this “devil talk” (deabolos) – gossip the gospel instead.

2. Tearing down/insulting

We are quick to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye, especially when they deserve it!

But we must speak the truth in love, not in criticism. Give a blessing, not evil for evil. (1 Peter 3:8-9)

In everyday life, we tear down politicians, neighbors, co-workers, family, friends we misunderstand. We must repent of this.

3. Profanity – bad language

What does the Scripture say? “Let no unwholesome speech come from your mouth, but only the words that may edify and build up so that it may give grace to those who hear it.” – Unwholesome = “rotten” putrid, not fit for use.

This isn’t only for the 4 letter words.

There are also fart jokes and etc that you don’t need to speak. This will probably require practice. But, “practice makes perfect.”

4. Complaining

Are you cold? Heater’s broken.

  • But this is forbidden in Scripture as well. “So as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, humility, kindness, gentleness, bearing with one another and forgiving each other just as the Lord forgave you.”
  • James 5:9 “Do not complain against one another brethren. The Judge himself is standing at the door.”
  • “Do all things without grumbling or complaining so that you may prove yourselves to be blameless.” Those who are blameless before God, forgiven by God, ought not allowed themselves to become ugly and complaining before men.
  • Proverbs “He who restrains his lips is wise.”

But we can’t all take a vow of silence. So, how can we control our tongues? Go to the SOURCE. (heart)

Jesus “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man, out of his treasure (heart) brings forth good, and the evil man, out of his treasure, brings forth only evil.”

So what should you do? Don’t try to stop your MOUTH. You’ll fail. Start by stopping it in your heart.

1 Corinthians “We take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.”

  1. Are these thoughts from temptation?
  2. Are these thoughts from my flesh?
  3. Are these thoughts from the Holy Spirit?

If it’s building, edifying, uplifting, encouraging, you can use it. The other 4? Avoid at all costs.

In the upcoming New Year, let’s challenge ourselves to make our tongues (hearts) more receptive to God’s inspiration and more edifying to the people around us.


Let’s pray.

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So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Listen
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