Take Charge of Your Tongue

James 3:1-12

Jerry A Collins




v                 Why is the tongue a powerful force?

v                 What makes the tongue difficult to control?

v                 How do we take charge of our tongue?


There is a phrase many have used about the danger related to the use of our words; You can remain silent and thought a fool or you can speak up and remove all doubt. We all understand the painful consequences of ignoring that advice. We have been the victims of someone’s uncontrolled words and we also regret the use of those words ourselves. People’s lives have been shaped and destroyed simply by the speech, the tongue, and the words that have been spoken to them or by them. It is about time that we get serious about this issue. Our words, our speech and our tongue, James will tell us is serious enough to actually effect the course of our lives and the lives of others. James introduced this discussion in 1:21 when he told us to be slow to speak. We should have gotten the clue then that this was a big deal. First, James had said be quick to hear and he reinforced that concept with the kind of hearing that involves works. Now he focuses in a new section on being slow to speak resulting in the most famous passage on the tongue.


Be careful about teaching 1 He believes that not many of you should become teachers. Teaching is a big deal in the NT. There were teachers in the early church; teachers are special gifts to the church; teaching is a gift of the HS; and teachers are listed third behind apostles and prophets. It is a big part of the example Christ left for us. It is a major part of the Great Commission. It is part of our maturity. So why would he then say let not many of you be teachers? Because those who used the tongue to teach would be held to a higher, stricter judgment—that is, at the judgment seat of Christ. There is danger associated with teaching and while there are gifted teachers Christ has given to His church, we must not limit that to only official roles because each of us should be teaching someone as part of our own maturity. James uses this concept to introduce us to his insight about the dangers in the use and misuse of the tongue.

Yet we all stumble 2 We stumble in many ways and if this is true is just a general way it is especially true in the use of our tongues and speech. Think about it—if it were possible to avoid stumbling with our tongues it would actually be possible to avoid all stumbling. Such a person, James says, would be a perfect man. The idea is that of a man without a flaw. This even works for the benefit of controlling his whole body—to keep it from participating in sin and its consequences and presented instead as living sacrifices. This is emphasized 3 times vs 2, 3, 7. So much of our stumbling in life is associated with our speech, use or words, and our tongues. The rest of James argument makes this very plain—no such man exists because no man can tame his tongue.

Tho small the tongue is influential 3-5 We put bits in horse’s mouths and thereby control the entire animal. Large ships can be controlled even in fierce winds by much smaller rudders. In both cases a very small and seemingly insignificant attachment exerts a powerful force directing wherever it wishes something much larger and consequential. The animal is controlled in the exact direction the bit desires. The ship is controlled in the exact direction the pilot desires. So, the little tongue’s capacity and potential is massive and huge in our lives vs 5. To a large extent our actions are determined by the things we say. It is almost as if our tongues speaking of our great exploits cannot also refrain from boasting about them. Combined with it’s uncontrollable nature as well as it’s boastful tendencies, our casual remarks—not unlike a spark or match igniting a dry forest causing massive wildfires—can touch off a firestorm of trouble in human experience. The tongue is petite but it is powerful.


The tongue is fire 6 Fire burns and that is just what our tongues produce. Why? Because he says the tongue is also a world of iniquity. In other words, there is no kind of evil at all which cannot be ignited in human life by the tongue. With this dual role—of a dangerous fire and a world of wickedness—our tongue is capable of being a member which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of life. Our words make us filthy; lead us to physical acts that defile us; and inflame the entire course of our lives by on-gong consequences they produce. You can break your life with the misuse of your words. You can move your life forward heated and endangered  by the things you have  said along the way. James tells us that the fire igniting our destructive course of life is itself often ignited by hell. Satan does inspire evil speech seen when Peter words were inspired by Satan Mt 16:22-23. There will be on-going consequences of our perverse words which in turn are often placed on our lips by Satan himself.

The tongue is an untamed evil 7-8 As much as we would want to believe we can control our words, the fact is we cannot. We have successfully domesticated all kinds of wild animals vs 7 but no-one can claim similar success with the tongue vs 8. Since we are incapable of such a feat in our earthly condition, the tongue still remains a villain. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison 8. If you are deathly afraid of snakes poisonous bite, then you should be fully sobered by your inability to control your tendency for injecting your poisonous, biting words which destroy life and produce death.


The tongue blesses and curses 9-10 Amazing that with our same tongues we can offer ecstatic and genuine praise to God our Father and with it may also curse and vilify people. All of this is possible in spite of the fact that they also bear the image of God they were created in as we. We learn here that the image of God has not been obliterated in fallen man even tho it is defaced by sin. This schizophrenic inconsistency ought never to be although it will tend to be 10. The ought never to be is a clue that even though our words can be powerful forces for perverse evil and schizophrenic inconsistency, we must never settle for this and when our words are under control we have proof positive of our maturity in Christ.

This inconsistent behavior is unsuitable 11-12 First, it flies in the face of the predictability of nature around us 11. A spring of water does not gush out bitter and fresh water at the same time. Second, it flies in face of expectations of nature 12. We do not expect fig trees to produce olives or vines figs or salt water fresh—of course not! While the tongue is powerful it must be controlled; perverse it must be corralled; schizophrenic it must be cleansed! James offers no solution except let not many of you be teachers.

1. The implied solution is that you are aware of the danger of the misuse of your words. Always watching for it and keeping it in check even tho not specifically said.

2. Most likely, the solution is in the next section—to pursue godly wisdom. That is, show your wisdom and knowledge by your conduct and deeds instead of your tongue.

3. Proverbs expresses the far-reaching consequences of our words, tongue, and speech—death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it—the tongue—will eat its fruit—death and life!